You Passed the Big Test: What’s Next?

Congratulations, you’ve passed the Behavior Analysis Certification Board exam and are now a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). So what do you do now? Well, I cannot speak for you, that is a journey only you can answer. I will however tell you what I am planning to do (not necessarily in this order):

1. Membership in Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)Capture
One of my first steps is to join ABAI. I consider this reinforcement for all the hard work I’ve put in. ABAI provides many learning opportunities as well as other benefits of membership. I won’t go into them all, because honestly I don’t know them all. But from what I’ve seen so far, it is definitely worth the investment. Want more information on membership in the Association of Behavior Analysis International? Click here.

2. Register for ABAI Annual Conference2015 San Antonio
I could’ve done this before. It’s not like you have to be a member nor have certifications to attend. But this year it is located in San Antonio, just a few hours from where I live. So therefore it is a must for me to attend! Being in a large room full of other behavior analysts, learning about what else, behavior analysis, is nothing short of awesome. If you’re planning to attend, hit me up, I’d love to meet you down there. Click here for more information on the ABAI Annual Convention in San Antonio, May 22-26, 2015.

3. Get a Tattoo (or a couple)
Another form of reinforcement for all the hard work. This would really be commemorating two events, completing my first official half marathon on Thanksgiving and passing the BCBA exam. As it turns out, according to the BACB records, these two events actually occurred within 3 days of each other. I also have no major issues with scarring my body a little bit more than it already is, at least this way it will look nice.

4. Brew an Honorary Beer

You guessed it, more reinforcement. Being that 1. I haven’t brewed in a while and 2. My supply is low and 3. I really like beer, so the timing is perfect. The only decision is what to brew up. A nice stout or porter? Maybe a nice Belgian dubbel? I always accept suggestions.

5. More learning
Why? I just finished all this learning stuff! Well, one can never stop learning. The field is constantly evolving and growing and I must keep up with it. As of the next test administration the Board is transitioning from the 3rd to the 4th edition Task List. So there is much to keep abreast of. One benefit of certification is getting access to JABA articles for free. No more back door methods for getting access to current JABA articles.

6. Professional Liability Insurance
If you’re already working for a large company you most likely are already covered by that company’s professional liability coverage. However it’s probably a good idea if you’re going to be working as a consultant or operating a small business. I used CPH & Associates in the past. Their rates are very good and their coverage is used by many practicing BCBAs.

7. Repurpose Rubber Band Ball2013-06-19 20.32.51
This was one of my reinforcement tactics for maintaining my studying. I gave myself a few minutes to place rubber bands on my ball for time spent studying. I had to spend a minimum of 30 consecutive minutes engaged in studying behaviors (reading, answering questions, SAFMEDS, BDS modules, doing reviews, etc.) in order allow myself access to the rubber bands. It’s a good “stress relieving” activity by allowing myself access to sensory. The hard part was getting myself to stop once I started. Anyway, now I need to find a new reason to let the ball grow.

There are several other things I’d like to do, and probably should do first. But these are some of the immediate activities I considered. Do you have any other suggestions? How did you celebrate a major accomplishment in your professional life?


Pigeonholed, Tearing Off Some Labels

Thinking back on a recent social skills lesson from Why Try? (, I talked with a group of students about “tearing off your labels”. We all are identified by others by how they view us, their perceptions of who we are. For many reasons, be they right or wrong, those perceptions also indicate to them how they think we should behave and interact with others, basically what we can and cannot do. Basically you can end up being pigeonholed into serving only function in the opinion of others. People then treat you in accordance the label they associate with you. During our lesson we created posters of ourselves, artistically writing down the labels people use to identify us. We then wrote how we want people to learn more about us so they might then identify us with new labels. This was one of my ways, to blog about it. Hopefully this would clarify one, what I do and can do, and two, to show I’m more than what I do as a professional.

For many years now, most people at work have referred to me as a “behavior guy”, as if all I can and am able to do is work with behavior. But what exactly does that mean? According to my training, everything we do is behavior. Think about it, outside of death, is there a time that our bodies are not doing anything? (But that is really a topic for another blog post)

Most people associate the word behavior with misbehavior. I don’t usually get contacted if things are going well, I get contacted when things aren’t going well at all. Yet, I see myself as a person who can use behavior analytic principles to not just work with treating misbehavior, but as someone who can use the same principles to make improvements in all aspects of life. It’s not just about making the bad good, but also about making the good even better, and easier, sort of like an efficiency specialist. That being said, although that is much of what I do, it isn’t ALL that I do.

So although much of what I end up discussing on this blog is behavior, there is so much more to me than the ABC’s of behavior. I also enjoy spending time with my family, running trails, brewing beer, admiring art, reading history articles and shows, endlessly pursuing my perfect backyard, blogging, tweeting, drawing, graphic design, meditating, watching movies, composting, playing mindless games on my phone or iPad, getting hooked into a game of tennis ball fetch with my Matilda (my Yorkie), training my fish to do stupid tricks (okay, bad example), providing silly third party commentary during old Star Trek Next Generation episodes just to name a few.

What are some labels people use to refer to you? Do you like your labels? Do you feel pigeonholed by them? What have you done to overcome those labels?

What’s the plan?: handling a behavioral crisis

The other day I had a student get very upset with me. Not because of anything I said or did, but because I was someone he was not familiar with. He had asked his teacher for help. His teacher, working with another student, was not available to assist him. She told him he could ask me for help. The student did not like that answer. He began to give me angry looks, and started to posture as if he wanted to fight. I looked at him, so he told me to stop staring. Using my Love and Logic, I responded by saying, “I do what people ask, when they ask me nicely.” He didn’t like that very much.

At this point he charged across the room towards me. I was leaning against a bookshelf with my hand on my chin, (a modified, impromptu modification of the CPI supportive stance), but did not move. He very angrily said he was going to rip my face off if I didn’t leave. I responded by saying, “I hope you wouldn’t, but if you feel the need to, you could try, I would just have to take care of myself and keep us both safe. However a better choice would be to go sit down and wait for your teacher’s help.”

Training to handle this type of situation is essential. I have seen this behavior before, therefore I was able to prepare a quick plan for how I would respond should we enter a full blown crisis. Having a plan helped me to stay calm in this situation:

1. Body position. I positioned my body in a way that wasn’t threatening, but at the same time was also safe and respectful. Coming off aggressively might only prompt the student to return the favor.

2. I set my limits. I could have easily said, “You are not allowed to hit me”, but he almost certainly probably would have tested that limit. So I responded by validating that he did have the choice to become physical. I did not get into a power struggle with him. Instead I informed him of what his choices were and from there he was able to decide which one would gain the more favorable outcome.

3. Awareness of the situation. Yes there was a risk, but I was prepared. My body was in position and I looked for signs the he was going to be physically aggressive. Where were his hands, was he continuing to escalate, was he breathing faster, was he looking for targets? My body was in position and I was ready to do what needed to be done, and in accordance with my training, in the event the student acted out physically.

4. Follow through. Since I saw no escalation, I continued my course of action. I felt no need to repeat my directive. I just gave him time to let the directive sink in and allow him time to process what he was going to do. Thankfully, I did not need to use any personal safety techniques in this situation.

The student grunted, then slowly turned around and walked back to his seat. He then asked if I would help him. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming. But, he asked so nicely, so I acknowledged the appropriateness of his request and proceeded to help.In fact, later we were able to talk about how to get the things he wants sooner using more acceptable behavior choices and bring some closure to the incident.

My main purpose for describing this situation is to point out that this job carries with it a high level of risk. My response in this student could have gone downhill fast. However I responded the way I did being fully aware of the potential risk. I have seen this particular student engage in some highly aggressive and destructive behaviors towards others and his environment in the past. I often tell teachers and parents, “If you’ve seen it once, then you should develop a plan”. A plan keeps me from overreacting or underreacting out of fear. The last thing I want is to escalate a situation because I couldn’t react to a situation appropriately. Developing a plan and understanding the risks of your responses will helps me move forward to work positively in a crisis situation.


This is an example of how a behavioral crisis situation was handled. This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Who is this kid??

Have you ever watched your kids interact with friends or other adults and ask yourself, “Who is this kid?”

As our children get older they become exposed to larger group of people. Parents, at least in the earlier years, have a great influence over how, when, and with whom children can interact. However, upon entering school age they begin to make connections with people that are no longer under our influence (although many of us try hard manage that too). What effect does this have on our children’s behavior and is that okay?

From a parent point of view I think it is perfectly okay. My role is to be their guide and to help shape their decision making so they can become well adjusted adults. I can teach rules, give examples, and model acceptable behavior. I can provide consequences for good and bad behavior and have them practice and role-play. But the choice is really their’s to make.

As our children get older their behaviors increasingly come under the influence of the social groups with which they associate. Therefore certain behaviors which you might never see or hear come out when children are with their friends. Think about it, have you ever said or done things with your friends that you would never say or do with your parents? You might praise and/or punish certain behaviors when they are with you. But those same behaviors might not get praised and/or punished by their friends.

It’s okay that these social contingencies exist, it’s all part of growing up. It’s okay that my son acts differently with his friends than he does with me. We have a different relationship. However as a dad, I must also teach him the social emotional competencies that help him build positive relationships and guide him to making good decisions. The key here is providing guidance in shaping their own goal setting behaviors. We can help (not force) them to decide what they want to do with their lives, both in the short term and long term. Sounds an awful lot like providing them with choices doesn’t it?

I think it is essential to show them where the biggest payoff is. If the bigger payoff is gained by acting a certain way with their friends, then obviously their friends have the greater influence. However as parents we need to help them recognize the greater payoff is by making decisions that help them achieve their goals. A child who is frequently given choices becomes more adept at making good choices later in life when peer pressures are at their greatest. Therefore when they are put into situations over which we have no control, they will have a greater ability to make positive choices that will help them achieve short and long term goals.


What are some ways you foster positive decision-making with your kids? Please feel free to share!

Don’t Squeeze the Spaghetti!

Grab a handful of cooked spaghetti and squeeze. If the spaghetti seeps out just squeeze tighter. If the spaghetti continues to seep out, don’t worry squeezing harder will eventually work. Now, if you have been able to keep the spaghetti in your hands stop reading. If you’ve managed to let the spaghetti fall out of your hand, here’s a towel to clean up the mess you have made.

Trying to maintain complete order in the classroom or at home is much like squeezing cooked spaghetti in your hands, as you squeeze tighter the spaghetti just continues to seep out. As teachers and parents we often attempt to corral all opportunities for control. However, in doing so you can unintentionally create a condition in which the child makes every attempt to regain some semblance of control in their lives.

Sometimes it feels easier to take charge and remove all opportunities for control. Yet, by attempting to exert all the power and control you unintentionally lose it. What we need to consider is the power of choices.

I recently watched a teacher tell a student everything he couldn’t do and everything he had to do, right now. For example, she told him not to leave his seat. The student’s reaction, “watch me”. I asked the teacher if I could intervene. With her permission I stepped up to him and said, “I notice you might be a bit upset, if you care to talk about it, I’m here. In the meantime, if you care to work instead that’s fine too. Let me know what you decide.” Then I walked away.

The student, apparently trying to save face, didn’t respond for a minute or so. But eventually he asked for his work assignment. I offered him the opportunity to talk during lunch and he nodded.

Using this strategy I was able to get the student to not only do what I really wanted him to do. I also got him to talk about what was truly bothering him later on. Why? Not because I made him do it, but because he felt he had the choice. I offered him some options, both of which I was perfectly fine with. Sometimes we just don’t give kids enough credit.

He could easily have chosen unspoken option C, do nothing. I would have been fine with that as well. Eventually he would want something from me. In that moment, I would come back to the problem at hand. In order to get whatever it is I can provide, I only make it available when he “fixes” the problem.

So the next time you feel the need to squeeze every ounce of control, you can provide some choices from the start, or keep a towel on hand to clean up the mess.