In my first blog post I wanted to reflect on what makes a good Applied Behaviour Analyst or Positive Behaviour Support Practitioner? Having been involved in ABA/PBS for 25 years I am conscious that results are not always dictated by good data, functional assessments and quality intervention plans (though they certainly help!). Success also seems to be influenced by the practitioner. I wanted to begin to reflect on what some practitioners do that seems to impact on successful outcomes. These things are often not featured in ABA or PBS text books or captured in the research.
The first thing we need to do as practitioners is change what parents, carers or professionals do to change the behaviour of the focal person. This is not always easy given people's varying understanding, experiences, training, values and contingencies that impact on their own behaviour. So how do we approach this?
The first thing I always do is stand alongside parents and carers. I always acknowledge the difficulties they have faced. I don't blame them, criticise them or oppose their actions at meetings - I give clear messages and assurance that I am on their side. I talk to them in plain language, not jargon. I am personable and kind. I let them know we are on a journey to change behaviour, but we are on it together, working together to make positive changes.
A good behaviour analyst can use behaviour analytic techniques to modify carer behaviour, reinforcing positive engagement, reinforcing positive changes and small efforts towards the end goal.
I have also always worked to the old adage that to "talk the talk, you need to walk the walk". Behaviour Analysts need to put the hours in. If the issue is sleep hygiene, for example, then this may mean supporting at bedtime for a few weeks. The average input for most of my cases is about 40 weeks. This is intensive stuff and requires the ability to work with carers each week on site conducting observations; taking direct data; coaching carers in the moment (like the conductor of an orchestra); modelling through direct work; regularly reflecting on progress with (using data in formats that show it clearly!) and celebrating positive outcomes; consoling and reassuring when we have the expected odd blip; and supporting carers in meetings with other professionals.
Good Behaviour Analysts draw strategies out of the people implementing them, so they own them and implement them. This can often be done by showing the data and giving a clear understanding of the function of the behaviour.
Good Behaviour Analysts also focus on carer quality of life, reducing stress levels, improving their communication skills with the focal person. Sometimes this means chasing up other professionals who's input is needed!
Anyone who works with behaviours that challenge needs to be good at self-reflecting. When things go wrong, when there are incidents, reflecting on what happened, and what could be done differently. Behaviour Analysts need to do this and model this with the families they support. The onus is how can we adapt the environment to reduce the chance of this happening, not an emotional focus on a reactive response (which often goes down a punishment route and invariably helps no one!). Behaviour Analysts should self-reflect and seek regular feedback from families and carers on their input.
In conclusion, families and carers need to trust the Behaviour Analyst, they need to have confidence in their ability, they need a good working relationship. Behaviour Analysts need to put the time in to develop this in a partnership of joint working.
Next time we will look at other aspects of what makes a good Behaviour Analyst.
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Dr Darren Bowing is an experienced Behaviour Analyst, trainer, presenter and researcher.