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Look at it this way – The Behavior Analysis way

July 3, 2012 4 comments

Repeatedly it has been shown that when you look at a phenomena in a different way new insights and revelations emerge.

My writing this mostly aimed at parents, trying to bridge the gap between Applied Behavior Analysis as a science and an understanding of its value at the level where it matters most .

The traditional approach to understanding behavior relies on hypothetical constructs such as ego, super ego, attitude, drive etc.

Behavior Analysis looks at the behavior as a observable and measurable phenomena which can be understood and managed for betterment.

How is this useful. Let me  attempt two common place examples that you and I can relate to especially with children with autism or other learning disabilities. I will also aim to keep the write up free of technical terms.

Scene 1:

A child is out and about throwing things in the room willy nilly, shouting and crying. When a concerned visitor asks, the parent explains that the child has  ADHD  ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and that he is prone to throwing temper tantrums. How do you know the child has ADHD ? One of the indications is that he throws tantrums often! This is circular reasoning and precludes the possibility of helping the child or solving the problem.

The Science of behavior ignores terms such as anxiety , upset, ADHD etc. and looks at when and why ( the function) the child engages in such a behavior. Could it be that in the past whenever such a behavior occurred the parent would mollify the child by giving attention, by giving food or access to some preferred activity like going to the park?

After observing and taking data on events that happen before and after the child’s behavior, the Behavior Analyst is able to identify the function and referring to a large volume of related research is able to propose a solution that can help parent get the tantrumming behavior to zero or minimal levels. Some possible solutions  ( depending on the analysis) are simple really – teaching the child to ask for desired items in appropriate way using sign or vocal language, paying attention to socially appropriate behavior ( by praise for example if that works) while not paying any attention when the behavior is inappropriate. Most people do the opposite actually – mind their own business when the child is fine and lavish attention when it starts shouting or crying!!

A cartoon on circular reasoning:

Scene 2:

When an otherwise perfectly normal looking child is not talking, a conventional expert or parent could say ” oh! he has autism, many children in the autism spectrum are not vocal”.

What are the signs that a child has autism ? ” One of the signs is the child being non-vocal” .

This is again conventional circular reasoning that does not help such a child.

Applied Behavior Analysis has demonstrated time and again that when such children are taught requesting for essentials ( such a s cookie, choclate, bread, water, Toy, TC etc….) using one-to-one teaching and certain simple research proven methods speech can emerge even in non-vocal children.

I hope to write more on the  value of behavior analysis as we go along.

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