Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Being a Parent AND a Behavior Analyst Part 2.

Hello! This will be the long awaited (or long since forgotten about) Part 2 on being a parent and a behavior analyst. Part 1 can be read here.

In short, Jeannie Golden and I chatted just briefly after her presentation. I asked her if she took data on behaviors she wished to target while parenting her daughter, who exhibited extreme aberrant behaviors. She said, "no". She wasn't apologetic. She just didn't take data. She felt that she understood the principles of behavior and was able to parent without doing so.

I pondered this for some time after the conference. I was a little perplexed and uncomfortable for awhile. I mean, we are behavior anaysts. If we are doing behavior analysis, we'd need some data to analyze, right? Or wait, maybe we are parents and we don't need a pencil and paper attached to us to make day to day decisions... How do we or should we compartmentalize our "professional" way of doing things and our own parenting methods? But then it hit me. There are many ways to be a good parent! Each parent must do what is right for his/her family! I'm not sure where the "behavior analyst" line begins and ends. I don't think it is clear. It's blurry for me, at least.

I often enter families' homes and request data collection for a range of behaviors. AFTER I became a parent, I realized that it is difficult to take data and run a home and family. It doesn't have to be impossible, but it isn't easy. Often, when I am asked to reduce a child's aberrant beahvior, the data I request has included rates of adult and child behaviors. I feel that it's necessary to have this information and it often serves as a useful tool in shaping parent behavior and training quality parenting skills.

When I'm feeling the best with my ability to teach behaviors/skills to my children, I'm using principles of behavior analysis (positive reinforcement, shaping, extinction, prompting, fading, oh the list goes on and on). When I'm not feeling the best, usually I find that I need to kick myself into gear a bit to get back on track. That's when I take data. The visual representation serves as a reminder, a teacher to me. This is what works for me. I'm not "doing" behavior analysis on my kids 24/7. But I do try to use the principles behind it to parent. This is just what has worked for me. Other professionals may parent differently but this works for me... for now.

I'm grateful to Jeannie Golden for taking the time to answer the question, "Did you take data?" I'd been trying to figure out why I didn't "feel" like a behavior analyst all of the time. What I've learned is that first, I am a parent. I am human. I'm sure I occasionally reinforce (therefore, increase) inappropriate behaviors because my children's silly and sometimes undesirable behaviors make me want to snuggle with them! But I'm not ruining them by doing so... I just may have some things to correct later! :)

Sometimes as a parent and a behavior analyst I felt like a tight rope walker without a net... lean too much to one side or the other and I will crash. But now I don't think the analogy is right. I think being a parent does feel like walking a tight rope sometimes... but my knowledge of behavior analysis is my net.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Apologies

Hello! I know this post has been a long time in coming! Unfortunately, it is not yet the follow-up to "Contemplating Being Parent and a Behavior Analyst...Part 1.".
Sadly, medical issues in my family and a weird summer schedule have caused me to put on hold many of my "side projects". This blog was one of them. I am planning to "gear up" and begin posting again at the beginning of September. My first article will be Part 2 of the afore-mentioned article (the follow-up on my talk with Jeannie Golden).
I've also started training for a half-marathon! I'd like to raise money for the American Cancer Society. If you are up to it, please see my fund-raising site.

It's not the prettiest site but it should get the job done!

Thanks, and please check back in September!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Contemplating Being a Parent and a Behavior Analyst Part 1.

About a month ago, I was in Phoenix attending the Association for Behavior Analysis International Convention. As always, it was fantastic. Usually I spend 1 or 2 days attending symposia focusing on current research in the fields in which I work the most: children, developmental disabilities, autism. Then I spend a day or two attending symposia that are interesting to me in other ways. A couple of my favorite "outside of MY box" events were entitled, "Behavioral Assessment for Covert Behavior Problems", "Behavior Therapies with Juvenile Offenders: Fire, Sex, and Violence" (Let's face it, some good information was presented... and the irreverance with which much of the information was provided was certainly entertaining.), and "Expanding the Scope of ABA: Diagnosing and Treating Children with Psychological Disorders and Emotional Behaviors".

I have spent some time over the last couple of days pondering the afore mentioned presentation and really what it means to be a parent AND a behavior analyst. As a behavior analyst, I tend to want to view the entire world in a very analytic way. I like to think there is a way to solve any problem; that solving problems and teaching new skills is about using science and creativity together; and that every facet of my life can be viewed and lived most comfortably from this/my point of view. As a parent, well, I am absolutely in love with my two children. They are happy and creative and unpredictable and strong and smart and perfect. They are perfect. And yet, as a parent, I often find the need to teach appropriate behaviors or to correct inappropriate behaviors (part of my responsibilities). And I find that I don't always parent up to my expectations. I don't always teach everything I want to, the way I want to, when I want to... I find myself wanting to "be proud" of them and actually caring about what other people think of them (and by extension, me). I hate that. I consider myself a highly trained, professional behavior analyst AND a parent with very little training at all. In trying to blend both of my worlds, the "behavior analyst" and "loving, emotional parent" I know there must be a perfect balance. I know other behavior analysts who do this flawlessly. The seams that merge the two are invisible. I, however, seem to need constant reminders of who I am. I have to be quite effortful for both sides to exist or unite.

I listened to Jeannie Golden present this year (again) on childhood trauma and attachment issues. Of course, she seemed to blend all facets of her behavior analytical background and personality perfectly as she parented her daughter. I'm not sure if it was because she is one of the first behavior analysts I've heard speak as a "parent" or even if she is an "excellent" behavior analyst. However, I found myself wanting to be just like her! After the presentation I spoke with her briefly to ask her one question:
"Did you take data while targeting specific behaviors with your child?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Karma Checks... Have you seen these?

Hello! My sister had some of these the other day and I thought they were great! Here's some info:


Contained in the familiar pleather checkbook holder, Karma Checks consists of two separate booklets–one for Good Karma and one for Bad Karma. The checks are preprinted with messages that apply to common daily scenarios. Good Karma Checks are intended for acknowledging positive moments (receiving an unsolicited favor, being served by a waiter who doesn't rush the table, having an excellent conversation with a stranger), while Bad Karma Checks are for admonishing bad behavior (talking loudly on a cell phone in a public place, chatting during a movie, stealing a parking spot). Fun to fill out and eminently practical, the Good Karma Checks are perfect for leaving on a recipient's desk or tucking into a thank-you note. If you aren't feeling bold enough to actually issue a Bad Karma Check, at least you'll have the satisfaction of glaring at the perpetrator as you privately write one out!

60 pages, 6 3/8 x 3 5/8 inches

I know that they may not be the most "effective" means of reinforcing someone's behavior. However, I think they look like a fun way to provide feedback immediately after a desired behavior occurs! It's a cute way to catch someone being good! My older sister and her daughter were visiting my younger brother and his soon-to-be-wife. They are neighbors. Dianne, my niece, really wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but they were out of bread at her house. My brother shared some bread with her and Dianne enjoyed her sandwich. Here's a quote from the Karma Check that was given to reinforce their "good behavior".

"Nice sharing! If this were kindergarten, you'd definitely get a gold star. Alas, this is not kindergarten - This is, what, 23rd grade? In any event, your stellar display of sharing did not go unnoticed. And let's be honest- sharing, at any age, is not such an easy thing to do. You done good, child."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back from Phoenix

Hello! Well, we made it back from Phoenix. I spent most of the weekend going to various presentations that focused on disseminating current research in various fields (all related to applied behavior analysis). I learned techniques in (SKIP the rest of the paragraph if not interested. I needed a list to remind me later!) teaching language to children with autism and other developmental disabilities (sign language vs. pictures, prompt levels, etc.); in decreasing behaviors that are automatically reinforced (like vocal and motor stereotypy, Pica); in using Rapid Automatic Naming as a teaching tool; the importance and usability of covert or in situ assessments in determining the likelihood that sexual offenders will become repeat offenders (and in determining whether or not a child will play with a hand gun when left alone); and even how to use behavior analysis to help parent children with severe emotional, psychiatric, and behavioral disorders (in the context of foster and adoptive parenting). Whew! (and I didn't even cover it all) It was a fantastic weekend!

I need time to process!

However, in terms of this blog I can summarize one of the most important points. When in a family setting, it is often easy to fall into the trap of describing behaviors in a circular way... using descriptions of behaviors as explanations for it. For example, a child who fights with their sibling may be called "aggressive". Then we explain the child is aggressive because he/she hits his/her sibling. A child who does not follow instructions may be called "non-compliant". Right, the child is non-compliant because he/she doesn't follow instructions. It's circular and it is not helpful. It is not descriptive and it is not explanatory. If we want to tackle "aggression" or "non-compliance" we must describe exactly what that means, what exactly it looks like, etc. If we do this, we can work to decrease it. However, if we stick with the circular logic, we are stuck in a circle with no solutions, only excuses.

I wanted to let you know that I have agreed to write a somewhat regular column for our local online newspaper, the GardnerEDGE. I'll be writing about parenting and family issues. To read my most recent article click on the GardnerEDGE link above. Once on their site, click on the heading, Columns and Opinions. The article I wrote is entitiled, "Take a Bite and Say Something Nice". If you'd like to read two others I've written, click on the GardnerEdge link above, then type: Enedelia into the search box in the top, right corner. I'd be happy to discuss them further. Feel free to leave a comment here or there!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weekend "Vacation"

Hello! I just wanted to post quickly to provide a quick update and "preview" my upcoming trip.

For the last week I have been taking data to measure the ratio of positive to negative interactions I am having with each of my two children. I've taken data for an hour most days, concentrating on times of day that have historically been the most difficult. I have to admit, initially I did reach my goal of 20 positive interactions with each child in an hour. However, I did not initially reach my goal of having 8 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction (negative being anytime I redirected or corrected their behavior). I persisted and got better at ignoring inconsequential behaviors that just didn't need to be addressed (and better than reached my goal)! I noticed that as I've worked on this, our home has become a more positive place. I love that some of the difficult times of the day (such as dinner preparation time) became a happy time, full of recognizing the good actions of my children. And what do you know? It's gotten easier and easier to do! I am pleased! It is disappointing that as parents, sometimes we slide into behaviors that we know are not effective and efficient (such as paying too much attention to negative behaviors and not enough attention to positive behaviors). However, I'm confident that the more effort we put in, the more automatic it will become.

I've also taken some good baseline data on some troubling behaviors. The data are not complete so I'll report on those later. For now, just know that I'm taking it and I'll get back to you!

Later this week I'm heading out to the Association for Behavior Analysis International Convention in Phoenix, AZ. It is an absolute data-geek fest and I eagerly look forward to it every year. I'll report back on new information I take in while I'm there! In the meantime, happy data collecting!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Data, data, data! And I've Identified Some NEW Targets!

In my first blog post, I detailed the intervention my husband and I are using to decrease the whining in our house. We have no reliable baseline data accounting for the number of whines we were experiencing during a given time in our home. I know, the best way to determine whether or not a behavior is changing (according to plan) is to take data on the target behavior before an intervention is introduced and take data during the intervention. As parents, it is often difficult to wait on baseline data before starting an intervention because... well, we get impatient!

Unfortunately, impatience typically has no reward. Even if the whining is decreasing, we have no definitive way of knowing "for sure". We are left with "feeling" like the behavior is decreasing when we've had "a good day" and being frustrated, thinking that there has been no change (or it's gotten worse) when we've had a "rough" day. It's a guess, at best. Our perception of everything around us changes depending on the variables present. Maybe it seemed the whining was practically non-existent today because we attended to other things and just didn't notice it or maybe it really did change. So data is a "MUST".

I've been looking around to try to determine what our next "target behavior" will be. Honestly, choosing one was a bit difficult! I realized that if I feel we have quite a bit to work on, I know there is one thing I should work on first: improving the ratio of "positive" interactions to one-sided, negative interactions. I read once in "Parenting with Love" by Dr. Glenn I. Latham, that parents should have no more than 1 negative interaction for every 8 positive interactions with each child in their family. In "The Power of Positive Parenting", written by the same author, he noted that he often recommended to families that they should strive for at least 20 positive interactions with their children every hour (when the children were exhibiting appropriate behavior). Of course, the interactions need to be short to fit them all in... usually around 10 words long (or less), or even just a wink or pat on the back letting them know that they are doing something right and you'd like to see more of it! Even better, be descriptive and precise about what you like. I know that my world is happier when I receive valid compliments and praise! AND I know how grumpy my world feels when I feel I am criticized and corrected in an unbalanced way. Can you imagine how kids would feel in the same situation? (Another way to insure to fit all of the positive interactions in is to IGNORE inconsequential behaviors that would typically elicit negative attention... but that post is for another day!)

Definitions of the behaviors. In order for us to track (data, data, data!) our interactions effectively, first we need to define what a "positive interaction" is and what a "negative interaction" is.
In our home, this is our working definition for a "Positive interaction": Verbal, gestural, or physical contact with child that is used to compliment, praise, or acknowledge the behavior they are currently exhibiting. It can also be the initiation or continuance of conversation that is not meant to redirect or address negative behaviors.
"Negative Interaction": Verbal, gestural, or physical contact in order to decrease or redirect an unappealing behavior.

About a year ago I made up a data sheet to keep track of such interactions. We can either write a brief note to describe the interactions or simply tally them. (Write a note in the comments section if you'd like me to email a version to you!) For now, we'll attempt to remind ourselves about "The Ratio" goal by keeping data sheets close by and with a few physical reminders in the house... a rubber band around my wrist, a special item in my pocket... maybe even a sticky note or two up on the wall (in strategic places). If I can, I'll figure out how to post a graph of our daily data soon. If not, you'll have to be satisfied with table (if I can get THAT to work:) ).

Unfortunately we won't have baseline data for the ratio of positive to negative interactions. However, we will have intervention data! While we are working on improving "The Ratio", I will begin baseline data on other behaviors that either we or their terrific babysitter have noted. They include, but are not limited to: physical fighting and/or aggression between the children, going outside without permission, and screaming/tantrumming. These behaviors have occurred enough for us to note them, but do not appear "dire". I'd like to take a little data to determine if they are isolated issues or if they need to be addressed. I'll be taking "ABC" data to help in determining the function of each of the behaviors, as well.

What is Behavior Analysis?

To be totally honest, I'm not happy with my last post. I feel that it is very general and missing some components to people who may be new to looking at behavior so intently. Not only that, I feel like the blog started out, in my mind at least, a little haphazard. I'm going to attempt to start at the beginning. Hopefully in the end, my blog will introduce people to the science of behavior and begin to develop an understanding of its use in practical settings.

I'm a board certified behavior analyst. Depending on who you are and your background, I suppose "behavior analyst" can mean different things to different people. I'll explain my background and the "official" definition.
I started out using applied behavior analysis (ABA) as a home tutor or therapist for children with autism. I was in my second year of college and a girl stood up in class to announce available positions with families nearby. I was intrigued and decided I wanted to give it a try. I immediately fell in love with the effectiveness that new skills were taught. I changed my major to Human Development, where, at the time, the ABA program was housed. I worked with several consultants and many families as a therapist for the next 6 or 7 years (and have worked as a behavior analyst for the last 7 years!). Also during college, I began working at a wonderful school that employed ABA techniques for teaching every child who attended school there. Century School is amazing! The teaching methods help children make fantastic progress in academics and was extremely innovative. Graduate students (in ABA) for the most part, were the lead teachers in all of the preschool and elementary school classrooms. It served as a practicum site for the undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Kansas. The majority of graduate students/lead teachers were doing research at Century School, in one aspect or another of behavior analysis/effective teaching. The results from their research were then implemented into every day teaching at the school. I am grateful that I was able to spend so much supervised time working with children with autism in home programs and with typically developing children in a school setting.
At KU I studied behavior analysis as an undergrad and applied behavior analysis as a graduate student. Behavior analysis is the study of behavior and is considered a basic science. Rather than focusing on "traditional" psychological theories, studying the "mind" and "personality", behavior analysis focuses on actual "behaviors"... researching them using the same scientific method that other natural sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, etc) use. Behavior analysts study observable behavior that can be measured. The goal in most of the research is to change a specific behavior and in doing so, determine what the mechanisms for that change are. Applied behavior analysis takes the research and information gained in the "lab" (laboratory research) to the natural environment... where people live, work, learn, etc. Even though applied behavior analysis happens in "the real world" data collection is essential to its application. Applied behavior analysis relies on defining a behavior, measuring it, then analyzing the data to determine what to do next. ABA does not exist without data!
Behavior analysts are:
The Board Certified Behavior Analyst is an independent practitioner who also may work as an employee or independent contractor for an organization. The BCBA conducts descriptive and systematic (e.g., analogue) behavioral assessments, including functional analyses, and provides behavior analytic interpretations of the results. The BCBA designs and supervises behavior analytic interventions. The BCBA is able to effectively develop and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods for use in unfamiliar situations and for a range of cases. The BCBA seeks the consultation of more experienced practitioners when necessary. The BCBA teaches others to carry out ethical and effective behavior analytic interventions based on published research and designs and delivers instruction in behavior analysis. BCBAs supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and others who implement behavior analytic interventions. (The Behavior Analyst Certification Board bacb.com)

Although my introduction to ABA was through ABA programs for children with autism (which focused on reduction of aberrant behaviors and an increase in functional skills), applied behavior analysis is a much, much broader field. It is used to improve socially significant behaviors in the wider population including education, medical procedures, parenting, weight loss/gain, animal training and care, etc.
My blog will be focused mostly ABA and it's effectiveness in the areas of teaching children (education), parenting, and will most likely dabble a bit in its uses for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. In my next post, we'll get down to the nitty gritty. I'll introduce some basic concepts and principles of behavior analysis. I plan on alternating posts of "real life" examples of how we use applied behavior analysis in our home with more in depth "instruction" on the science itself. So here we go!