It can be confusing to appreciate all the acronyms in modern day mental health care. Comprehensive treatment can include all sorts of letters – OT, SLP, ABA, CBT, DBT…Sometimes I feel like it’s important to break things down a little. Some of us get all caught up in our work and get super-duper jargon-y in a not-so-helpful way.
Today I’d like to talk a little about ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). Let’s pay homage to the tenets of its development and foundation for a moment. OK. That was nice. Now the main idea: Behavioral techniques work. You don’t have to make it overly complicated and mystified to see the benefits. The simplicity of behaviorism is the point. Someone or something (a house-training puppy, for instance) responds to reinforcement, plain and simple as that.
You know what? The faster you reinforce the desired behavior, the more likely it is to occur again. Example: (I happen to be house-training a puppy right now) Puppy goes outside, wanders and plays, squats and pees – JUMP ON IT – treat time! “Good Boys” all around! It associates a positive experience with what just happened. YAY!
This simple activity is doable by anyone. Trying to teach a toddler how to potty train? (excuse me, all this pee talk requires a bathroom break) The minute the kiddo does what it is supposed to do, even starting with simply sitting on the toilet, give him/her praise, praise, praise (and treats if you so desire). You can reward each and every incremental step toward potty training. Kiddo afraid of the toilet flushing sound and won’t even consider it? Reward them standing in the hall and listening to you flushing the toilet. That simple. Each step toward the goal = reward. OK. That’s ABA in a nutshell. Wasn’t all that technical, was it?
Let me suggest how this translates. As noted in my previous blog post, I have a teen. A behaviorist has raised her. The other day, she CLEANED HER OWN ROOM without being forced into it. What?! I immediately jumped on it and told her how much this shows me she is becoming more responsible and growing into a lovely young lady. Simply put – one step closer to that iPhone. She knows that spontaneously doing the right thing will elicit happy parents. That took training (parenting).
Now, she’s no angel. I ignore (as much as possible) undesirable behavior and reward the right stuff. Believe me, she is testing out the boundaries (as is developmentally appropriate). But she learned early that throwing a fit will never be REINFORCED with giving in. See how I did that? It works both ways. If you reinforce the wrong stuff or give in to the crap that kids throw at you, you teach them that it is a reasonable way to get what you want. DON’T do it! And, when you say, “I only sometimes give in.” Even worse. Intermittent or occasional giving in is actually MORE reinforcing than consistent rewarding. Please save yourselves the headache.
Bottom line: reward what you want to happen. It works, I promise.