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?


A Behaviorist’s Back to School Advice


I always think of this B.F. Skinner quote when I’m making my classroom behavior plans. As we begin this new year, we all know that connecting with students and getting them to perform takes reinforcement. But what we sometimes forget is, kids care less about the “thing” they get than how that thing was given. It’s the little things you do every day to show you care that make the biggest difference.

Here’s to a great school year!


Runner’s High: A Brief Analysis of My Running Behavior

Three miles into my run and I’m dragging my feet and gasping for every breath. But something is compelling me to push forward. It’s like my body is telling me it has to do it. ”Keep on going!”, my body says. Call it an urge, sensation, or feeling if you will. From the combined viewpoints of running and behavior analysis, the concept of the runner’s high is intriguing to me. I can think of a few of reasons for continuing the run at this point. So I wanted to offer up a very brief, and not overly technical, functional analysis of my running behavior.

First, I have 2 more miles to go before I get home. I could stop now and all will be well. For some people completion of the exercise is a reinforcing “event”. I am one of those people. There is a satisfying feeling obtained when the run is finished. If that is the case, then my reinforcement history would lead me to think that I would finish the run because completion of the run itself is reinforcing. Therefore running is maintained by positive reinforcement, right?

In addition, there often comes a point in a run when I feel no discomfort, no pain, no worries during a jog. For a guy with chronic back pain and multiple knee and foot injuries, this is amazing consequential event. So in my case, running could operate under negative reinforcement because I am able to escape (even if temporarily) the pain effects of chronic injuries?

However, running does satisfy an urge, sensation, or feeling associated with what is commonly called “runner’s high”, which indicates that running serves a sensory function. Sometimes I cannot wait to get home because of the urge to get a run in. Lately when I am approaching the end of a run, I begin to think I should keep on going because I have not felt “the high” indicating that I might need to run more. Then I continue a little longer in order to obtain the sensation of “the high”. In that sense, wouldn’t running be maintained by automatic reinforcement?

So perhaps my running behavior is multiply controlled behavior. It is positively reinforced merely by completion of the run. The behavior is negatively reinforced due to the pain-alleviating effects it allows. But still running is automatically reinforced due to the access to sensory stimulation that it provides.

Now it’s time to move on to analyzing my nail biting behavior….. 🙂

Pairing: Building Relationships in the Classroom

Photo borrowed from Anger Management Resource (

We all have to put in the time and effort to build positive relationships with students. I’ve recently been working with some staff on building positive relationships with the students in their classroom. Pairing, a process of associating oneself with positive reinforcement through consistently matching yourself with positive stimuli, is a helpful strategy to building (and rebuilding) relationships with students.

Whether it’s a home program or within a classroom, pairing can help establish the relationship between teacher and student. I think pairing is a key component at the beginning of any behavioral program and is essential to the failure or success of your program.

One of the basic premises behind a behavioral program is that students will be much more motivated when they are having fun. Therefore, as a teacher or therapist, you must become fun for the student. Pairing is used to help the child get used to the teacher/therapist and look forward to teaching/therapy sessions. A good way to establish instructional control is for teachers to first connect themselves with positive reinforcement. It begins with noncontingent reinforcement. In other words, the student is first reinforced without having demands placed on him or her. This initially could be in the form of a compliment or tangible item (it depends on what is motivating to the student).

In the beginning, the only requirement for getting access to reinforcement (besides the lack of undesirable behavior) is that the student take the reinforcers from the teacher. Technically speaking, the reinforcement is still contingent, as there must be an absence of undesired behavior (tantrums, aggression, SIB, etc.) for reinforcement to be delivered. However the focus for the teacher/therapist is to seek and provide as many positive reinforcement opportunities for the student as possible.

After this is happening consistently (after several hours or even days), the teacher/therapist must gradually fade in demands; slowly increase the response requirement before reinforcement can be given. Eventually the teacher/therapist will be able to gradually present more demands of varying difficulty. Successful pairing will help ensure the reinforcement value of learning is not lowered while at the same time preventing the increasing the value of escape.

Pairing essentially involves 3 elements which must be in close association with each other:

1) The student The learner who is seeking positive reinforcement

2) The teacher/therapist Becomes the conduit by which the student obtains reinforcement.

3) The student’s desires and reinforcers. The student has to want it, or it’s never going to work.

In order to become a reinforcer themselves, a teacher or therapist will have to capture and contrive MOs/EOs and identify strong reinforcers with which they can be paired. Often times this may mean providing limited access to reinforcing items to certain times of day or under certain conditions in order to increase the desire to obtain them. A teacher/therapist may also have to contrive the setting under which this occurs (such as a space with increased likelihood to obtain reinforcement, such as play areas, play centers, etc.). Once this happens, everything associated with the teacher, especially learning itself, becomes reinforcing.

Whether you are a teacher, therapist, counselor, paraprofessional, administrator, or parent; your position alone does not automatically make you a reinforcing person in a student’s life. Pairing is a systematic way to help you establishing trust and connect yourself with reinforcement. It is this association with that solidifies the child’s view of the therapist as fun and reinforcing. The teacher/therapist becomes a bridge between the student and reinforcers.


This is a simple description of how the pairing process can be implemented in the classroom or at home. I will expand on this in a future post. 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.


On Ever-changing Expectations…

Student: I don’t have a pencil to do my work.

Teacher: You can have a pencil to do your work when you are sitting in your seat.

Student: I still need a pencil.

Teacher: Well, you were sitting in your seat but you didn’t keep your hands to yourself.

Student: Okay I’m sitting in my seat.

Teacher: You were sitting in your seat and you kept your hands to yourself, but you didn’t remain silent.

Student: Okay, I’m ready now.

Teacher: You were sitting in your seat, with your hands to yourself, and remained silent, but you kept kicking the desk in front of you.

Teacher: It’s time for you all to turn in your assignments.

Student: I didn’t finish my assignment.

Teacher: Well why not?

Student: Because I didn’t have a pencil.

Teacher: Well why didn’t you ask for a pencil?

This may seem an overdramatized example, but it’s something that happens very often in the classroom and at home. When we continuously change our expectations, we inadvertently (and very quickly) punish the desired behaviors we seek. As teachers and parents we need to be clear about what our expectations are from the beginning. If a child performs a skill and it is not to our liking, think to yourself, was I clear about what I wanted him to do?

If the error is on your part, you have to accept that this time the child performed the skill to the best of his understanding (I call them my Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moments). It is okay to “take the hit” for this one. Take this moment to praise for doing what then rephrase your expectations in a manner so the child understands exactly what you want him to do. If necessary provide some practice time so the child can demonstrate understanding (it also allows you to follow up with additional praise).

“Hey you did a great job sitting in your seat! Next time I’d like to see you sit while keeping your hands and feet to yourself, and using a quiet voice, okay? “I’m going to be checking!”