Conference News from 4CABA

Every time I attend a conference, I come back reenergized and with more focus, eager to start a new experiment or try something new with a client. This time was no different.

In early April, I attended the Four Corners Association for Behavior Analysis Conference in Park City, UT. The conference was a two-day event, packed with great talks covering a range of topics. Some of the themes that stood out to me were those of providing high-quality behavior analytic services across settings and to various populations, as well as the emphasis on “compassionate” care (as per Dr. Susan Friedman’s words).

Today, I want to share some of the things that stood out.

Dr. Kate Saunders discussed her research on reading instruction. As someone who works with young children with ASD (and as a mom of young children), it was interesting to hear Dr. Saunders challenge the notion of using letter sounds and phonemes as the basis for reading instruction. Knowing the sounds of individual letters may not facilitate the blending of sounds when reading a whole word. This may be particularly true in children with ASD and other developmental delays. Dr. Saunders described the skill of phonetic abstraction as a pre-requisite for being able to sound out words. If you work in early intervention and/or education, it is important to contact the behavioral science described by Dr. Saunders. (For more on behavior analysis and education, visit the Educating Education blog).

Dr. Cheryl Young-Pelton provided an interesting perspective on the provision of behavior analytic services in rural settings. For those of us living in urban areas, it may be difficult to imagine the barriers faced by clients and service providers in areas such as Montana. Providing behavior analytic services in the middle of nowhere involves challenges such as lack of basic facilities and services, the need to travel long distances (sometimes under less than favorable weather conditions), and a dearth of trained service providers. Dr. Young-Pelton described the difficulties of implementing telethealth solutions to alleviate these barriers and highlighted the needs in these remote communities. There are many middle of nowheres in which our services are needed.

Dr. Morten Haugland from Haugland Learning Center in Ohio provided an overview of the work conducted at his centers. They serve individuals with ASD, from young children to young adults, for whom mainstream classrooms have not been adequate learning environments. The majority of the individuals attending Haugland Learning Centers engaged in problem behaviors that precluded them from continuing to attend their assigned school. At Haugland Learning Centers, academic instruction is conducted in small groups, with a focus on generative instruction and management of problem behavior via positive reinforcement (no aversive control at all!). Dr. Haugland described their use of a token system that allows staff to provide highly powerful reinforcers to students (e.g., rare World War I collectibles), with which appropriate behaviors in the classroom can be differentially reinforced and maintained. It was inspiring to hear about the work they do.

Dr. Susan Friedman talked about the fascinating work she has been conducting with nonhuman animals in zoos and other facilities. Although her talk was not about autism, the message resonated loudly with me. Dr. Friedman emphasized the need to provide positive and compassionate care to our clients. This is true regardless if the client is an adult with developmental disabilities, a three-year-old with ASD, or a giraffe at a zoo. Our interventions should enhance the quality of life of our clients. In addition, Dr. Friedman, along the lines of what Dr. Haugland discussed, emphasized the use of positive consequences to promote the behaviors we aim to increase in our clients. Aversive control may be useful (and sometimes necessary) but it should not be the starting point of any intervention, regardless of how difficult (or dangerous) are the client’s behaviors.

The other speakers at this year’s 4CABA were Dr. Meg Heinicke, Dr. Todd McKerchar, Dr. Dean Williams, Dr. Tyra Sellers, and myself.

I encourage you to find your local ABAI chapter and attend conferences or other events. So much to learn and many networks with colleagues to build.

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