This is part 2 of a series on becoming a registered behavior technician (RBT) before finding out I was autistic. Part 1 on restraint training can be read by clicking here.
The ABA Online Course
To be certified as a registered behavior technician (RBT) in ABA, I took an online course. It was called Relias, one of the most commonly-used certification courses for RBTs.
I am, like most autistics, an enthusiastic learner. I do not like to go into anything related to other people– especially children– unprepared; and, since I’d not heard of ABA, I felt wildly unprepared. I was desperate to soak up all the information I could. I would not be doing something I didn’t feel qualified to do.
The online course was a series of videos with questions at the end of each section. If you failed a section, you watched the video again and took the quiz again.
The other trainees hired at the same time as me had told me that I could just let the videos play and look up the answers on my cell phone, but I actually wanted to learn. I have a very good memory, almost eidetic– and I’ve excelled in my adult years academically.
So, it’s fair to say that I’m a quick study. But the training was too densely packed with jargon and new information to be effective instruction. It is safe to assume, with my 14 years in education and the effortless 4.0 GPA I maintained with my graduate education in psychology– that if I felt lost and like I’d learned nothing after I completed the course, then most people would leave the course with at least the same level of confusion.
That was my first major red flag.
This data-driven, highly-analytical field couldn’t even design an effective training module.
I was able to do the whole thing in a weekend, and it was the most boring, tedious, counter-intuitive learning experience of my life.
The overarching question that kept popping into my mind was: what the hell?
So, ever the pedantic autistic, I’m going to make a list of some of the things I can remember which prompted the resonating what-the-hell? Finishing this certification effectively qualified me to perform this job, but I didn’t feel prepared nor convinced.
While I’ll do my best to reflect only on what was in the online training course, and my memory is pretty succinct, this was three-four years ago. It’s possible some of the details are conflated with what I learned from other employees during those first two weeks.
1. I’d never worked with young kids before.
I didn’t have a child at the time and had managed to make it to age 35 without spending any significant amount of time with young kids. My expertise started with around age 11 and went up through adults.
When I asked that I work with only older children, I was told that there wasn’t enough room in the schedule to pick-and-choose clients. I did, actually, have a lot of relevant experience with older kids– autistic or not. But this was a business. Businesses thrive on numbers.
Why were they going to let me transport these children in my car, care for them, and work with them for so many hours per week with no professional background or even anecdotal experience working with very young children?
In anticipation of working this job, I bought a new car. I could not be transporting children who had difficulty coordinating motor movements in a two-door vehicle. I take everything I do professionally this seriously.
They expected me to diaper strangers’ children and to take children wherever and do whatever: just me and a kid, in my car– and they just met me. They’d just met all of those people. Most of them had no education beyond high school.
In public education, I had to have constant ongoing education, at least a bachelor’s degree, and multiple supervised internships and mentors before I could teach children in a very transparent and public atmosphere. Special education teachers require much more education and training.
And I had damn sure never changed a diaper of a student. While some did have issues with continence, there were professionals who were trained to support them with toileting, hygiene, and changing clothes. In fact, it was considered a biohazard to handle bodily fluids, and only trained staff were allowed to do this.
I didn’t even know how to work a car seat. How could these people be trusted? How could I be trusted? No one had even contacted my references…
2. Why are the RBTs so intense?
We were supposed to be loud, energetic, and hands-on. In fact, they encouraged us to be very loud.
I kept thinking of the people in the videos, What is wrong with you? Have you lost your damn mind? Is something wrong with your eyes that you cannot see how invasive and overwhelming you’re being? Can’t you see how anxious you’re making these poor children?
Why were they talking in a near-shout while holding their faces just a couple inches away from the child’s? That would feel like an aggressive violation to me. Why do they instruct us to be so loud? Did they not realize how large the room was?
I felt abused on behalf of the children. I felt their discomfort.
3. Why did I feel manipulated?
The whole time I watched these videos, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being manipulated, essentially like how I feel during an infomercial.
It didn’t feel instructive. It felt persuasive. I do not want or need to be persuaded or “sold” on the value of anything. I have since learned that this is a trait many autistic people share.
If something is worth learning, I will enthusiastically learn it. I will learn all the things about it– to a degree most would find twelve miles past what is necessary. But, if it’s not, I can barely muster the focus– or I viscerally reject it.
The repetition of material without substance, the feel-good music, the personable tone of the instructor like I was an insider and would “get it” while the kids really needed me so they could be productive and not so broken… it all felt like an infomercial with children as the products.
I should be able to be convinced to subscribe to something based on its merits alone. As soon as persuasive techniques– which I’d spent over a decade teaching to students– enter education, it feels more like evangelism than substance.
I hate little more than I hate manipulation. Facts are persuasive to me.
4. Why were behaviors deemed “not functional”?
Stimming (repetitive behaviors like rocking, flapping, or repeating a movement over and over) and echolalia/scripting (repeating words or phrases from people or from movies/shows) were called “non-functional.” To me, it was extremely obvious why the children were stimming.
We all stim, I thought. I would be agitated and stimming, too, if someone had been in my face that way scream-talking and having their hands all over me. I’d be a nervous wreck.
I didn’t realize how easy it was for me to put myself in the children’s shoes because I thought I was neurotypical. I thought I was on the other side of the equation.
With the echolalia, I recognized it as something that my husband did, albeit at a more sophisticated level than a 3 year old might demonstrate. He does it to buy time to process and think. I had never thought of this behavior consciously until seeing these videos because it just seemed a natural way to corral your thoughts.
It was something I did, though my scripting wasn’t from cartoons or superhero movies but from classic literature and quotes from prolific thinkers and scientists… and maybe sometimes from old Jim Carrey and Chris Farley movies.
5. Why were the RBTs so aggressively touchy?
I would see the videos and literally jump because I was so affected that I was startled. The RBTs were so touchy, constantly taking the children’s hands and placing them on the toy/picture card/food they wanted the child to touch.
When the child would perform a simple task, like stacking a block or touching his cheek, the RBT would hug the child, or pick the child up and spin her around, or shake his shoulders in extreme praise while shrilly and loudly– to the point of shouting– telling the child what a super-great-wonderful-amazing job they had just done.
6. It was so patronizing.
One thing that has caused me subtle-but-ongoing conflict in all my professional endeavors was that I was too honest with the wrong people. As a teacher, I was too honest with my kids or took their sides when an adult had acted unfairly. I weighed in on situations given the details, not because I felt any loyalties to fellow faculty.
It caused problems when I asked why the custodians and cafeteria workers couldn’t address us using our first names, but their first names were embroidered on their shirts. In sales, I was too honest with customers when they asked questions like, “Would this product be useful for my needs?”
Now, I realize that autistic people don’t sense the same hierarchies in social structures as neurotypical people do. To me and to most autistics I know, a child deserves the same rights, privileges, and respect as an adult.
Of course, with children there are limits regarding safety, hygiene, and other obvious boundaries parents must enforce; however, a toddler deserves to be included and respected as much as any other human. A custodian deserves the same reverence and respect as a CEO.
In fact, we were taught these things. We had human rights training, which aligned with my philosophies perfectly. All of my trainings have aligned with my philosophies in all of my positions; however, I always found myself in conflict when none of my co-workers or supervisors seemed to be as dedicated to those views of rights and personal autonomy.
So, to praise a kid for following a command to do something useless, just for the sake of complying, felt like sending the message to the kid, “Your value is in your ability to make me proud.”
And, there was no way in hell I would have been able to treat a child that way.
6. Most of the target behaviors were pointless.
I’m sure to some people, it might seem important to get a child to touch its nose-ear-hair-chin because they asked the child to, but I couldn’t see a point in such behaviors. I couldn’t see a point in forcing a kid to do a puzzle in a scripted environment. Why would anyone want to do anything outside of relevant context?
I really couldn’t see the point of taking a child to the park to document how many times he made eye contact and used sarcasm with age-appropriate peers.
In fact, in almost all of the videos I watched, I couldn’t see a point in the child being pulled into the behaviors they were being pulled into. The only point I saw was obedience.
The very word “obey” repels me viscerally. I have a strong, instinctual reaction against it. If something doesn’t need to happen, why praise someone for doing it? “Great job on playing with this boring toy by pretending it’s a boat!”
Because kids need to learn that doing everything they’re told, without objection or question, is ideal?
Again, emphatically, No.
I’m wired to my core to reject that kind of blind compliance.
7. It looked like dog training.
Kids were constantly being fed/given treats, rapidly, with no time between the command, the behavior, and the reward– before the whole pointless cycle was started again. “Jump, good boy, have a Skittle, now Jump again, good boy, have a Skittle!”
No joke, the trainers were even using clickers like what are used to command the attention of a puppy.
I was later told that I could purchase my own clicker from PetSmart. Literally, I was told to go to a pet store and buy a gadget used to train animals– for under five dollars, no less!
I don’t ever pretend to know how someone else would feel. My natural instinct is to imagine how I’d feel if someone did [insert behavior] to me– and the thought of someone using a clicker or “reinforcing” me so frequently filled me with rage.
I imagined how it would feel to have someone telling me constantly how great I was for doing something pointless or for performing some menial life task:
You opened that envelope so well, Terra! Here’s a Cheeto. Now, here’s another piece of mail. Looks like a credit card offer. Open it up! … Great job!
(Fresh-out-of-high-school teen reaches in to tickle me, then documents my success)
Okay, here’s another envelope from Physician’s Medical Center. Let’s go three-for-three! YES! You did it! High five on that one!
How long would it take for me to shut down, or try to escape, or to lash out? Because if I had to do that for forty hours per week– or even four– I would stab myself with a letter opener. I’m not being dramatic, either.
Honestly, as metered as I am, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t eventually slap someone.
8. I don’t enjoy most praise.
I don’t ever want to be told I’m doing something great, or that I am great. That kind of compliment is ignoring who I am and speaking directly to my ego. It’s an implication that I am doing something for reasons that benefit me personally and selfishly, and not for the Greater Good. I prefer someone to ask me about what I have done– or to tell me how it was relatable or helpful to them.
I have since realized that relating to most people by sharing my closest lived experience reads like an invalidation of their feelings and like trying to make the conversation about me; however, other autistics generally appreciate this type of interaction and see it as an extension of solidarity.
I can imagine that the different perspectives might be related to how non-autistics often assume they know other people’s feelings and intentions by intuition. I can’t feel this way because I’ve learned that most people don’t feel the same way as me or have the same motives for their actions.
If ABA focused on providing children with opportunities to engage their special interests in ways that allowed for social and civic engagement, kids would find that rewarding enough on its own merits without the patronizing and infantilizing praise.
9. It was pigeon training.
The field was largely based off B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning model from the 1930s. The first video in the course, in fact, referenced ABA’s common application in animal training and offered the example of people training whales to do shows at theme parks.
In fact, here’s a screenshot of it:
Conveniently, Relias has some sample videos on their website. You can view a portion of this one by clicking here.
The last thing a whale should be doing is performing tricks in captivity for human entertainment. The course didn’t really redeem itself after that, either. In fact, there were footage videos of Skinner’s lab, wherein pigeons were trained to perform tricks for food. This was supposed to be a convincing part of the sales pitch…
I ask myself, How would I feel if someone told me to perform a trick for every bite of food before I eat it? I would feel hungry, because I would willfully starve to death before letting someone do that to me.
I mean that literally with no hyperbole.
That instinct in me, that defiant self-respect, would’ve saved me from so much degradation and hardship in my life had it been nurtured and empowered. I would’ve known that it was okay to say “no”–even if someone told me it was impolite– instead of disregarding my gut because my behavior was “impolite” or “socially inappropriate.”
And those people who “trained” me so aggressively have eventually and tragically learned that my instincts about dangerous people were right.
10. The time commitment for the children was intense.
For children under 5 years of age, the recommended commitment was 20-40 hours per week of this kind of therapy. I could scarcely imagine a more miserable, exhausting, dehumanizing life than having someone “train” me so rigorously for so many hours a week to do– well, anything.
This is during the most neuroplastic, critical period of development. How would someone who reflected on their earliest memories feel about being trained like an animal like a full time job to be different from how they were at their core?
Even though I didn’t know that I was autistic, I related to this from the standpoint of a child raised in a sexist, patriarchal, fundamentalist religious environment. There was so much pressure to accept that my innate nature was perverse, sinful, and “put Jesus on a cross” that it caused me to need over a decade of therapy to recover.
How was this any different?
11. It was so incredibly creepy.
One thing that really unsettled me was “pairing.” Here’s a brief quote from the video series:
One idea is to bring a “magic bag.” The “Magic bag” will have games, treats, and toys that the student only gets when you are around. Think of it as an “automatic fun dispenser.” You are needed to access those cool, fun toys. You are now valuable to the student.
Yeah, this doesn’t sound at all like, “If you offer the kid candy, you’re more likely to get them into your utility van with painted-over windows.” Except, that’s exactly what it sounds like.
All I could think was that it was bribing kids into denying their instincts about people and their emotional reactions and conditioning them to be interested in material objects and rewards. Why weren’t they relying on inspiring kids to explore their natural curiosities? Or using logic to explain the reasons for doing tasks?
I suppose if the tasks don’t have a logical purpose, then that’s not going to work…
12. Imitation was a valued skill.
At my core, I reject imitation. It’s a paltry skill, a desperate one. It is the antithesis of originality. But, this training talked about the grand merits of imitation on development and how most kids do it effortlessly. It followed that sales pitch on the merits of imitation with,
Most children with autism spectrum disorder, however, have a core deficit in in the ability to imitate.
Well, good for them, I thought.
They often show little interest in the behaviors of those around them, and do not often attempt to imitate what they see.
YES! That is a wonderful trait– the hallmark of an original thinker!
Poor imitation skills indicate that the child with ASD is not observing and learning from the world around him. Failure to imitate means that new skills are not practiced, rehearsed, or mastered.
Um, no. Failure to imitate is not failure at all, first of all! Second, they were complaining about imitating speech as being “not meaningful” earlier, and now it’s a problem?
Then, look at this, starting at around 1:54. It shows the imitation skills the RBT is teaching to the autistic child.
She gives him a candy or piece of food, he eats it, then she physically manipulates his body to be facing hers. After that, she commands [mands], “Do this,” and claps right in his face. He turns away, in fact. The look on his face is, “This lady done lost her damn mind.” I know that look, because it’s the same look I was wearing when I watched it in horror.
He turns away with his whole body when she doesn’t get the point. He’s saying, “I am uncomfortable with this. I don’t want to do this.” And honestly, who would? I’d feel assaulted if someone clapped in my face like that.
The end goal is to generalize imitation skills so students are able to copy the behaviors of others, especially peers, and continue to imitate behaviors in the absence of direct instruction and continuous reinforcement. Our aim in teaching foundational imitation skills is for imitative learning to become a natural way for the child with ASD to learn new behaviors and skills.
I remember this so vividly. “Foundational imitation skills.” I thought, imitation is NOT a foundational skill. This should have been my biggest ah-hah moment of the course– the one where I realized that I was the children and not the teachers.
I thought, children do not learn this way. This is so strange. Why would they call imitation a foundational skill? Curiosity is a foundational motivator for behavior and perhaps, at times, even imitation. Not just imitating for the sake of imitating. There needs to be a purpose!
The whole course taught me more about my differences than about ABA. The foundations underscoring the approach were different from everything I’d learned in developmental psychology, special education, and general education courses. With over 240 college credits and 500 continuing education units under my belt, and having been deemed as the teacher who was “magical” with autistic students– this went against every instinct I had.
It was because this course was teaching me to deny all my instincts, to go against my very nature, and to teach children to be nothing like me.
- My family’s autism services are working for us, so we will probably lose them - May 24, 2023
- What autistics mean when we say this world is not made for us: How fun activities push autistics into the margins - December 23, 2022
- Being a Great Parent to Your Autistic Child at Fall Festivals and Halloween Events - October 31, 2022
Sigh…truth is, God created every being to be different, but falleness exists pervasively,so the struggle is to be for others irregardless of one’s quirks. Thank you for listening to what I am trying to communicate as a misfit believer.
Wonderful writing. Shakes me to the core to read your personal essay herein.
Sad subject to interpret such differences between accepted ABA Therapy and what You are much more comfortable with providing as an alternative. I have learned what children might appreciate in favor of animal training methods which they logically would reject.
I continue to learn more and more about Autism which also effects little Greta. She is what got me here to your blog site to become far more educated. Thank you.
The only word I have right now is “yikes.”
Have to say my education and training in ABA sounds completely different than what you have described here.
Can you address any inaccuracies specifically? Because I named the program I used (Relias). This is by far the most common program used in ABA
As someone who started as a behavioral technician and then choose the RBT route. The information here seems extremely inaccurate, especially since only the course was completed and no hands on experience. My training course was also completely different, no yelling or over touching. The kiddos easily get sensory overload, that would make no sense.
Relias is the most common training used.
You know, it’s funny how the comparison they use is of orcas, of all animals. Orcas have shown multiple examples of behavior patterns that they share only with humans. One such behavior, which SeaWorld admitted to, was this: orcas attacking other orcas to get those other, more subordinate orcas to fall into line, just from being exposed to very basic and vaguely outlined operant conditioning. In none of my animal behavior and cognition Master’s courses had I heard of even great apes doing that. The closest example to this, other than humans and orcas, is Alex the parrot verbally reprimanding another bird with “You’re wrong!”- but I don’t think Alex learned that just from operant conditioning alone, because him doing that is similar to the way birds squawk at each other anyway, just translated into words we understand. Whereas neither bird nor great ape got the idea to physically attack subordinates to bring them in line with the trainer, nor rats for that matter, but orcas at SeaWorld and enslaved people – humans – did, just from having basic operant conditioning forced on them. The only human behavior orcas don’t engage in is pitched battle (and since eusocial insects do battle too, battle can’t be said to be a marker of specifically person-like intelligence anyway). And to that end, orcas, while they kill lots of other species, don’t kill humans. I think they see us as, if not fellow orcas, then the same basic status in their mind, akin to being granted personhood from our standpoint the way we might grant personhood status to an extraterrestrial driving a spaceship (though I bet they take intraspecies murder more seriously than we do, outside of captive situations, and we take intraspecies murder pretty seriously).
In short, of all nonhuman animals to use as an example, they had to pick the one for which the term “dehumanization” is especially apt to describe what was done to them, even at this early stage where we don’t really have solid scientific evidence for orcas being comparable to humans in terms of their intelligence structure*. Because after all, for them the name of the game is dehumanization.
*they set the standards for comparing animals to humans pretty high after all and I wouldn’t even mention that comparison if there weren’t this plethora of anecdotal examples, especially the one even SeaWorld admitted to that I had never heard of across multiple discussions of ape, or even dolphin, research. Even with dolphins doing things that mean that the only reason we can’t even consider, in any literal capacity, likening them to early hominids that never died is because those hominids aren’t around to observe.
Here are the inaccuracies you asked for. Signed, a self-diagnosed (awaiting evaluation) autistic RBT with 1 autistic child, possibly another (awaiting evaluation), and an undiagnosed autistic brother, with a special interest in autism, ABA, and human behavior.
Her: “The training was too densely packed with jargon and new information to be effective instruction. It is safe to assume, with my 14 years in education and the effortless 4.0 GPA I maintained with my graduate education in psychology– that if I felt lost and like I’d learned nothing after I completed the course, then most people would leave the course with at least the same level of confusion. That was my first major red flag. This data-driven, highly-analytical field couldn’t even design an effective training module.”
Fact: That’s literally subjective and based solely on your experience and your opinion. I absorbed and maintained a lot of information from the training modules.
Her: “ I was able to do the whole thing in a weekend, and it was the most boring, tedious, counter-intuitive learning experience of my life.”
Fact: The BACB requires that the 40 hour training must be completed within 180 days and in no fewer than 5 days. 5 days is not a weekend. Also, it’s literally your fault if you try to cram 40 hours into 5 days, which is 8 hours a day. Give your brain time to absorb the information!
Her: “Why were they going to let me transport these children in my car, care for them, and work with them for so many hours per week with no professional background or even anecdotal experience working with very young children?”
Fact: Why did you apply for the job if you have literally no experience with children? Why did they hire you? This is on the company, not the field of ABA.
Her: “Most of them had no education beyond high school.”
Fact: They literally had training for this position and should have received training on the floor before being on their own. Again, if they did not receive both, then this is on the company. Formal education beyond high school outside of the training is completely irrelevant, as many people excel at this career without having formal education and a degree in behavior analysis. We are not BCBA’s or BCaBA’s, we are RBT’s. We are not creating treatment plans or analyzing data, we are implementing treatment plans.
Her: “In public education, I had to have constant ongoing education, at least a bachelor’s degree, and multiple supervised internships and mentors before I could teach children in a very transparent and public atmosphere. Special education teachers require much more education and training. And I had damn sure never changed a diaper of a student. While some did have issues with continence, there were professionals who were trained to support them with toileting, hygiene, and changing clothes. In fact, it was considered a biohazard to handle bodily fluids, and only trained staff were allowed to do this.”
Fact: Actually, all you need to be a paraprofessional, WHO CHANGES DIAPERS, is to pass a test or to have an associates degree in ANAYTHING, along with experience with children with special needs. There is no “diaper changing training”. There IS, however, bloodborne pathogen training, which would also apply to other bodily fluids getting into your system, AND YOU TOOK THIS TRAINING TO BECOME A TECH.
Her: “Why are the RBTs so intense? We were supposed to be loud, energetic, and hands-on. In fact, they encouraged us to be very loud.”
Fact: My training never mentioned being loud. Maybe hers did. Admittedly, I’m a little louder sometimes, but I read the child and adapt to their needs and preferences, including how I deliver praise. This is a quality of a good RBT. If you’re not able to adapt to different clients, the position isn’t for you.
Her: “Why did I feel manipulated? The whole time I watched these videos, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being manipulated, essentially like how I feel during an infomercial.”
Fact: This is literally your opinion and perspective. Why are you writing it as if it were factual to warn people? I didn’t feel that way at all.
Her: “Why were stimming behaviors deemed “not functional”?”
Fact: I don’t even know how to respond to this because EVERY behavior has a function. It’s literally taught to you during your training. Maybe you missed it in the “weekend” you watched it. Also, we don’t even prevent stimming unless it’s in the topography of self harm behaviors or behaviors that harm others, or we shape it to an alternate behavior that serves the same function, that doesn’t impede their learning (example: wiggle seats for when a client can’t remain still in their chair to engage in an activity, chewies for clients that bite their hands to the point of skin breaking or bleeding, etc).
Her: 5. “Why were the RBTs so aggressively touchy?”
Fact: if it’s aggressive your obviously doing it wrong. Hand over hand is a physical prompt and is sometimes necessary to teach clients how to perform activities such as stringing beads or completing a puzzle. The prompts are faded, and we begin with the least invasive prompt, based on the client’s particular needs and their reaction to physical prompts. If a client is aversive to physical prompts, less invasive prompts are used.
Her: “So, to praise a kid for following a command to do something useless, just for the sake of complying, felt like sending the message to the kid, ‘Your value is in your ability to make me proud.’”
Fact: Maybe you think it’s useless because you don’t understand. Reinforcing easier tasks before building to more complex tasks is behavior momentum. This is used to teach complex tasks and skills that ARE useful.
Her: “6. Most of the target behaviors were pointless. I’m sure to some people, it might seem important to get a child to touch its nose-ear-hair-chin because they asked the child to, but I couldn’t see a point in such behaviors. I couldn’t see a point in forcing a kid to do a puzzle in a scripted environment. Why would anyone want to do anything outside of relevant context?”
Fact: It’s important to be able to identify things throughout life. Also, being able to complete simple puzzles is the building block for more complex building and problem-solving skills.
Her: “ It looked like dog training. Kids were constantly being fed/given treats, rapidly, with no time between the command, the behavior, and the reward– before the whole pointless cycle was started again. “Jump, good boy, have a Skittle, now Jump again, good boy, have a Skittle!” No joke, the trainers were even using clickers like what are used to command the attention of a puppy.”
Fact: so because it looks like one thing that works means it can’t work for another? That rapid succession you’re referring to is discrete trial training, which isn’t what all of ABA consists of. Food is not encouraged to be used as a reinforcer; only when other reinforcers do not typically work for that particular client. And lastly, those ‘clickers’ are probably just tally counters, so not even the same thing, it’s something completely different. If they were in fact using clickers, it’s just an SD, which is just to get the client to connect the sound to the action along with the word (another SD). The clicker would eventually be faded out and the client would then be able to understand what you’re asking them to do when you say the word only. Your oven timer is an SD, your alarm clock is an SD, a traffic light is an SD.
Her: “If ABA focused on providing children with opportunities to engage their special interests in ways that allowed for social and civic engagement, kids would find that rewarding enough on its own merits without the patronizing and infantilizing praise.” // “I don’t enjoy most praise.”
Fact: First of all, in ABA, we DO encourage the clients to engage in their special interests when possible during many activities, and strive to make this possible for them in clinic settings. I do this every day that I’m at work. And as far as infantilizing them goes, they are literally children, and many are developmentally younger than their physical age. Every client I’ve met so far has enjoyed praise. You’re an adult so this is irrelevant. And what does you not enjoying praise have to do with the entire field of ABA and a child’s perspective of it?
Her: 9. “It was pigeon training. The field was largely based off B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning model from the 1930s.”
Fact: The video showed him shaping a Pigeon’s behavior to turn around in a complete circle (the behavior) when a light (the SD) came on. Shaping is a technique that reinforces approximations of behavior until the desired behavior is achieved; Then adjusting when you deliver reinforcement and only reinforcing closer approximations of the desired behaviors, until the desired behavior is achieved. An example is reinforcing the “C” sound and eventually only reinforcing “cook”, and then only reinforcing the full word “cookie”. This can shape both behaviors and speech.
Her: “The first video in the course, in fact, referenced ABA’s common application in animal training and offered the example of people training whales to do shows at theme parks.
Fact: Applied Behavior Analysis is a science and science is not responsible for WHO uses it and for WHAT they use it for. Science can be used to make bombs that kill innocent people, but do you blame the science or do you blame the individual for what they did with it? This is beyond irrelevant to the discussion of ABA therapy used to teach autistic children daily life skills.
Her: “For children under 5 years of age, the recommended commitment was 20-40 hours per week of this kind of therapy. I could scarcely imagine a more miserable, exhausting, dehumanizing life than having someone “train” me so rigorously for so many hours a week to do– well, anything.”
Fact: ABA therapy is not all Discrete Trial Teaching for all hours of the day, nor is all DTT done using flashcards at a table either. Give me a break.
Her: “It was so incredibly creepy. One thing that really unsettled me was “pairing.” Here’s a brief quote from the video series: One idea is to bring a “magic bag.” The “Magic bag” will have games, treats, and toys that the student only gets when you are around. Think of it as an “automatic fun dispenser.” You are needed to access those cool, fun toys. You are now valuable to the student. Yeah, this doesn’t sound at all like, “If you offer the kid candy, you’re more likely to get them into your utility van with painted-over windows.” Except, that’s exactly what it sounds like.”
Fact: This wasn’t in my training but I relate to the magic bag thing. I know other older RBT’s that have boxes of fun, but I don’t know their intention behind it. My intention behind creating my own box or bag of fun (in progress) is because I want to be the fun RBT. I want the kids to genuinely enjoy their time with me. I want to have things of my own that others don’t have in use when I want them. And because we are supposed to be their biggest reinforcers. I have never made the connection between abductors or pedophiles. Because that is reaching, and that is someone usin one thing for something bad. I’m not teaching them anything bad. So it’s irrelevant.
Someone else she quoted, who she then rebutted: “Failure to imitate means that new skills are not practiced, rehearsed, or mastered”.
Fact: This is a fact and I’ve seen this occur firsthand.
Her: “After that, she commands [mands], “Do this,” and claps right in his face. He turns away, in fact.”
Fact: No one in my training clapped all up in a child’s face, all aggressive-like. Also, “do this” is an SD, or discriminative stimulus, NOT a mand. This reads as an exaggeration of what actually occurred and the terminology isn’t even correct, so it’s not credible in any way.
Her: “I remember this so vividly. “Foundational imitation skills.” I thought, imitation is NOT a foundational skill.”
Fact:Actually, it is a foundational skill. Even neurotypical toddlers imitate to learn new skills. Every time you watch a video on YouTube and then attempt a new skill, you imitate. Every time you spoke or typed when learning, you imitated. When you shadow for a new position and then do what you were taught, you’re imitating. When you’re answering a phone with “hello?”, guess what? You’re IMITATING what you were taught.
😂 oh my god becky
I’m not sure what you mean by that? You wanted feedback and asked someone about your inaccuracies in a previous comment. I felt I had to comment on many topics covered. This is done with the intention that people actually receive factual information if they’re being steered away from therapy. Without the factual information, the post is really just an opinion and should be written to make that clear. Otherwise, you are spreading harmful misconceptions, misinformation, and myths, and blaming the entire field of ABA for one company’s oversights and for what is strictly an opinion.
You have not identified an inaccuracy, first of all. You’ve simply typed up a lot of cognitive dissonance that demonstrates you’re so indoctrinated by the conditioning that you’re willing to say things that are objectively anti-scholastic and bellicose in order to defend against fair criticism of Relias.
I truly hope one day you can look back at how obnoxious this is and cringe because you’ve experienced personal growth and deprogramming. You’ve effectively given an example of the evangelism I opined.
I did point out inaccuracies. The absolute most objective inaccuracy would be your incorrect use of terminology. I also have not taken the course through Relias, but as I stated, the training can’t be completed in 1 weekend. I’m defending facts, not Relias itself.
That was not an inaccurate use of mand, but even if it were, the article discusses the jargon-heavy training and the point is not invalid because of a word in parentheses which signifies that it is auxiliary and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. You’re just being extremely rude and obnoxious. A woman clapped in a child’s face and the video was linked when this article was published (and has been removed by Relias since).
These are valid criticisms, and instead of absorbing those, you came here trying to bulldoze me like a bully— and did it poorly and ironically. You just wanted to shut this down because you’re more defensive of a field than of the human beings being impacted by this field and the tens of thousands of people who take Relias every year and learn to dehumanize kids.
Everything you said was just antagonistic with the goal of being pompous and reeks of the colonialism rampant in your field— where the culture of assholery is more a problem than the notion of conditioning.
You didn’t make any valid points. You just came here in bad faith. It’s a bad look
You said the RBT manded for the client to “do this”. That is an SD, or discriminative stimulus.
You are telling me how I feel and it’s inaccurate. That is not my reason for commenting. I am not near to bulldoze or bully you. I’m here because I don’t like inaccuracies being spread to parents who are trying to choose therapy for their children. I care about the children. Especially because I let ignorance and misinformation get in the way of my own son’s therapy for the 8 years that have passed since he initially received ABA therapy, which I never viewed as abusive or creepy during his sessions either. Now that I’ve applied my knowledge of ABA at home, he is able to mand that he is hungry, and verbally tell us what he wants to eat sometimes. It’s things like that that make me feel strongly about the subject and I believe you’re misinterpreting my intentions. I’m sorry that you interpreted them this way.
You are a little late coming into this argument with 1. Inaccurate information and 2. Not recognizing that there are many ND BCBA’s who wholeheartedly agree with and have experience what Terra is describing. Are you actively working in the field with a broad reach of how ABA is implemented, or just one singular experience?
Your arguments were, for the most part successfully rebutted, back in 2020 and 2021. Catch up darling.
I typed a reply and it disappeared so I’ll be more brief this time. I stated in my first paragraph that I’m a ND RBT with at least 1 autistic child (the other is waiting for evaluation). Please list my inaccuracies if you’d like to better educate me, as the article itself has inaccurate information and incorrect terminology used and that is what I was responding to. Thank you for letting me know that it’s not welcomed to comment after it’s been written. In that case, the comments should be shut off and inaccuracies shouldn’t be asked for if they’re not wanted. Thanks.
I am new to this field and have been out of training for a couple months, but I can say with confidence that this isn’t close to my experience working as an RBT. Again, I have only worked for one company so far, but the way we conduct ABA is very different from this experience. We are not hands on with the child using the potty or needing to be changed at all. We are also very conscious of the client’s propensity to become overwhelmed and as a result, we are very mindful of the way in which we interact with each child. I have also NEVER heard of stimming behaviors referred to as “non-functional”. We do not aim to remove those or make the child more “obedient” either. I’m sorry to anyone who has had therapy like this. Our therapy is centered around teaching meaningful life skills to these kiddos. Again, I am aware of the criticisms that ABA as faced over the years and I’m really sorry this has been your experience with whatever company you worked for. I am not here to dispute that or take anything away from their substandard procedures. There are however, BT’s out there trying to implement ABA with the client’s best interest in mind. Good luck to you Terra!!
Did you use Relias? That’s what this article is about.
Yes, I did! I’m surprised you were able to finish it all in a weekend or that others could just let the video play. Ours wouldn’t allow that. It was paced over 3 weeks, and during each video you would need to keep hitting play after each short section to ensure you were involved.