Archive for December, 2012

Maimonides on Reinforcement

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Maimonides, a Medieval Jewish philosopher ( 12th century ) and a Torah scholar on the workings of positive reinforcement

. Imagine  a small  child  who  has been
brought to his teacher so that he may be taught
the Torah, which is his ultimate good because
it will  bring  him  to  perfection.  However,  be-
cause he is only a child and because his under-
standing is deficient, he does not grasp the true
value of  that good, nor does he understand the
perfection  which he  can  achieve  by  means  of
Torah. Of  necessity, therefore, his teacher, who
has acquired greater  perfection  than the child,
must  bribe him to  study  by  means  of  things
which  the child loves in a childish way. Thus,
the teacher may say, “Read  and I will give you
some  nuts  or  figs;  I  will  give you  a  bit  of
honey.” With this stimulation the child tries to
read.  He  does  not  work  hard  for  the sake  of
reading itself, since he does not understand  its
value. H e  reads in order to obtain the food. ,
As  the  child  grows  and  his  mind  improves,
what was  formerly  important  to  him  loses  its
importance,  while  other  things  become  pre-
cious.  The  teacher will  stimulate  his desire
for whatever  he wants then. The teacher may
say  to  the  child,  “Read  and  I  will  give you
beautiful shoes or nice clothes.” Now the child
will  apply  himself  to reading  for  the sake  of
new  clothes  and  not  for  the  sake of  study  it-
self. . . . As his intelligence improves still more
and  these things, too, become unimportant  to
him, he  will set his desire  upon something of
greater value.  Then  his  teacher  may  say  to
him,  “Learn this  passage  or  this  chapter,  and
I will give you  a denar or two.” Again  he will
try to read in order to receive the money, since
money  is more  important  to  him  than study.
The end which he seeks to achieve through his
study is  to acquire the money which has been
promised  him. When his understanding has so
improved  that  even  this reward  has  ceased  to
be  valuable to him,  he will desire  something
more honorable. His  teacher  may  say  to  him
then, “Study so that you may become the presi-
dent  of  a  court,  a  judge,  so  that  people  will
honor  you  and rise  before  you as  they  honor
So-and-so.” He will  then  try  hard  to  read  in
order to attain his new goal. His final end then
will  be  to  achieve  the honor,  the  exaltation,
and the praise which others might confer upon
Now,  all  this  is  deplorable.  However,  it  is
unavoidable  because of  man’s  limited  insight,
as  a result  of  which  he  makes  the  goal  of
wisdom  something  other  than  wisdom itself,
and  assumes that the  purpose  of  study  is  the
acquisition  of  honor,  which makes  a mockery
of  truth. Our sages called this learning not for
its own sake. . . .”

‘Isadore  Twersky (Ed.), A  Maimonides  Reader. New
York: Behrman  House,  1972. Pp. 404-407.

Sridhar Mudhan, Board Certified Behavior analyst, India Mobile : +91 9538001515

The Third Annual ABA India Conference that happened in Kolkata

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Third Annual Conference of ABA India


The third annual conference of Association for Behavior Analysis India was held in The Park Hotel, Kolkata on 8th and 9th Dec’2012. The  program received a tremendous response ,attended by over 200  participants around 65%  of whom were  parents of children with autism and other learning disabilities. The rest of the participants were special educators, mental health experts, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, students doing MS in psychology etc.,


ABA India’s mission is to introduce & advance the Science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in both cities and remote locations of  India. One of the major areas where ABA based methodologies have demonstrated significant breakthroughs is in developing and delivering interventions to teach children with Autism. Given that Autism, a learning and developmental disability is now reaching epidemic proportions (Latest statistics indicate 1 in 150 new births affected) ABA India aims to :

  • Increase awareness about successful interventions to teach skills to  children with autism and empower them
  • Create a resource pool of trainers trained in the latest methodologies based on the science of ABA
  • Bring ABA as a subject of study in India to make services affordable and scaleable to meet the huge demand
  • Collaborate with parents,  special educators, mental health specialists, occupational therapists, paediatricians etc., to share knowledge and best practices from across disciplines.
  • Help spread ABA applications to shape behavior and bring positive changes in society


In the Inaugural session, Mrs. Mita Bannerjee, state commissioner for the persons with Disabilities, West Bengal lit the ceremonial lamp and during her address stressed the importance of professionals in Applied Behavior Analysis working with frontline aanganwadi workers to reach services to the people with disabilities. She has asked that ABA India submit a proposal for collaborating with the disability commission to reach larger sections of the society and promised unstinting support from the disability commission.


Ms. Smita Awasthi, BCBA , founder and past president of ABA India presented a retrospect on how the pool of professionals trained in ABA has grown steadily from just one person in 2004 to 18 people now . Given the large number of children being diagnosed with autism day by day she stressed the urgent and crying need for bringing Applied Behavior Analysis as a subject of study in India to make it more affordable for aspiring students who otherwise have to pay hefty fees and study with foreign universities.  While thanking parents with children with disabilities who played a pivotal role in the organisations move forward she stated unambiguously that ABA India would like to collaborate with experts from other fields such as special education teachers, occupational therapists, mental health professionals, speech and language therapists, psychiatrists  and paediatricians.


Dr. Neil Martin, international representative from Behavior Analysis Certification Board, explained the board’s role in ensuring high ethical standards in the practice of the science and the message optimism it holds out to society.


Dr. Samir Parikh, Director- Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences made a hard hitting speech ( peppered liberally with humour) on the need to think beyond clinical diagnosis and treatment for children with disabilities given that barely 7% of such children have access to much needed expertise from qualified  and educated professionals. He also provided very interesting insights on all that is going wrong with the education system.


In his keynote address, Dr. Per Holth from Akershus University college, Oslo, Norway presented how “ Category Mistakes”  ( first defined by Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 book , the concept of mind ) lead  the fields of psychology and even applied Behavior analysis to engage in circular reasoning  and thereby mistakenly attribute Behaviors to entities that do not exist separately.


The conference featured 24 paper presentations from experts from India and abroad on subjects such as teaching a five year old child with autism to participate in a story telling competition, Teaching receptive identification to a 10 year old boy with autism using stimulus transfer procedures, using task analysis and prompt fading procedures to teach adaptive skills to children with autism etc.

Intensive two hour  workshops  addressed areas such as  Teaching Joint Attention skills, Teaching Play skills, Understanding and Managing challenging Behavior,  Teaching Social Verbal and Non- Verbal Behavior,  Addressing Feeding disorders  and Using the Power of Positive Reinforcement to teach new skills and build socially appropriate behaviors.

These workshops were  conducted by  eminent professionals from overseas and from India. The facilitators included Dr. Neil Martin , Phd., BCBA- D from United Kingdom, Dr. Per Holth from Norway, Dr. Joyce Tu, BCBA-D from United States, Dr. Geetika Agarwal, BCBA-D from United States, Mr. Corey Robertson, MS, BCBA, United states and Ms. Smita Awasthi, BCBA, India.

The valedictory function saw parents of children sharing success stories using principles of ABA. The presentations showed data based studies  with video vignettes on how speech emerged in a 13 year old girl with autism, how a 12 year old girl in the autism spectrum learned a variety of occupational,daily living and leisure skills such as embroidery, cutting vegetables, drying out clothes, singing and making chappathis, how a mother taught her boy to respond to instructions and his  name being called out.

In his concluding Vote of thanks, the President, Mr. Sridhar Aravamudhan thanked the parents and professionals in the field for turning out in large numbers and participating in an amazing knowledge sharing experience. He also announced Chennai as the venue for the fourth Annual conference to be held in Dec 2013.

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