What to watch at ABAI 2020 online: Symbolic language and thought sessions

Louise McHugh: I am a Professor in the School of Psychology, University College Dublin. My research interests are in the area of Behavior Analysis, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and symbolic language and thought. I am the director of the University College Dublin Contextual Behavioral Science lab, a former recipient of the ABAI Outstanding Mentor Award, a Fellow of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science and a peer reviewed ACT Trainer. Attendance at the ABAI annual conference has resulted in some of my best memories. As with everything in 2020 the ABAI annual conference will be a little different this year…

ABAI 2020 is online!

The first ever ABAI online conference is coming up on May 21st-25th. For this ABAI symbolic language and thought blog I will walk through my highlights from the program for fellow symbolic language and thought enthusiasts. What delights are in store for us all!

Picture – ABAI post session dinner circa 20 years ago!

Kicking off the conference on a high note there is an excellent choice of pre conference workshops by Carmen Luciano and Siri Ming. The formidable Carmen Luciano (May 22nd 8am-3pm) will be giving a one day workshop on Behavior Analysis, Relational Frame Theory and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. As an expert basic scientist and skilled practitioner the knowledge base and practical work in this session will strengthen your clinical work in a unique way. I always come away from sessions with Carmen with a new perspective and angle on the work that we do. ***Note: Carmen’s workshop has since been cancelled.

Dr. Siri Ming and Prof. Carmen Luciano, excellent pre con ABAI 2020 options

If you are working with children the brilliant Siri Ming (May 22nd 8am – 3pm) will be using RFT to promote generative language. If Siri’s recent book ‘Using RFT to Promote Generative Language’ is anything to go by this workshop will focus on assessing, establishing, and capitalizing on derived relational responding repertoires in frames of coordination (equivalence), and show you how doing so can promote generalized and generative language repertoires.

The main conference starts on the 23rd of May. First up on my list (10-10.50am) is Doug Greer’s group (Georgette Morgan and Faheema Abdool-Ghanny) from Columbia University discussing research on verbal development and relational responding and how this can inform and change children’s prognosis. Next (12-12.50pm) Yvonne Barnes-Holmes from Ghent University, Belgium, will be giving an invited talk on recent advances in RFT and the implications for education and clinical behavior analysis. Yvonne’s work is always innovative with clear links from basic research to practice.

During that same timeslot if you would prefer a research symposium you also have a choice (12–12.50pm). Choice 1 is a symposium chaired by Jonathan Tarbox linking RFT to ACT with Gill Luciano and Jorge-Sanchez presenting and choice 2 is Jennifer Cammarata’s symposium on the establishment of conditional discriminations and formation of relations in older adults (presented by Anette Brogaard and Brogard Antonsen).

One of my favorite teams of presenters are up on the 24th (3-3.50pm) looking at assessing and training complex behavior such as classification and analogy using RFT chaired by John McElwee (presenters Siri Ming, Elle Kirsten and Ian Stewart).

Other great papers at this time include ‘Effects of a Rhyming Distractor on Trained and Untrained Stimulus Relations in a Delayed Match-to-Sample Task’ (presenter Elizabeth Augspurger) and ‘Investigating the Effects of Verbal Behavior on Emergent Comparative Relations’ by Shannon Luoma.

On Sunday May 24th (9- 9.50am) there will be an intellectual workout on the application of behavior analysis to ethical standards and belief systems (presenters Eva Lieberman and Kate Kellum). And an incredible invited talk by Bryan Roche from Maynooth University on May 24th (11-11.50am) on using relational skills to raise IQ. Attention nerds these two sessions are not to be missed!

Sunday mornings hot sessions will be followed by a must attend session by past ABAI president Linda Hayes is on May 24th (12-12.50pm). Linda will be presenting with Mitch Fryling and Martin Finn on ‘Interbehaviorism and Psychological Events as a Field of Interactants: A Possible Future Path for Behavior Science’. This session will give your philosophical perspective a twist.

In the poster session on Sunday look out for poster 219 ‘The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure as a Measure of Hopelessness in Elderly: An Exploratory Study’ (presenter Renato Brotoloti) and Poster 235 ‘Utilizing the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedurein Designing Interventions Related to Motivation and Cooperation in Organizations’ (presenter Ramona Houmanfar).

On Sunday 24th evening (5-6.50pm) Mark Dixon’s group will be presenting on his work in a session titled ‘Changing the unchangeable: Treatment advances in Relational Frame Theory can influence global measures of adaptive functioning in children’ (presenters Taylor Marie Lauer and Mark Dixon). It is always exciting to learn about all their new innovations using RFT with children from this group. Crossing over with this session on Sunday May 24th (6-6.50pm) if you want to delve into the world of private events and secrets behavior-analytic investigations of the former and the latter will be discussed (presenters Devon Wentland and Carmen Luciano).

On the last day Monday, May 25, 2020 (11-11.50am) there are two symposia by Mark Dixon’s group to watch out for. These sessions include talks on the effects of relational training on older adults diagnosed with dementia (presenter Ayla Schmick), ocular observing responses and relational training procedures for children with autism spectrum disorder (presenter Becky Barron) and cutting edge research on PEAK training (presenter Zhihui Yi). Amanda Chastain (University of Southern California) will also be chairing a session on empirical investigations of derived relational responding as a generalized operant at this time.

And that brings us to the end of the line up of ABAI symbolic language and thought sessions for 2020. I’m sure you’ll agree that the 2020 ABAI online conference is a smorgasbord of delights for the symbolic language and thought nerds. The biggest issue you will have is trying to decide between the clashes which sessions to attend. Enjoy ABAI 2020. And don’t forget to join in the social events too. I hope to virtually see you all there!

*Check out Peter Killeen’s video introducing the virtual platform (https://youtu.be/vog0F65a8AE). Spoiler – you will be able to watch presentations asynchronously!

One of the online social events to look forward to – Happy Hour Scavenger Hunt!