This is a phrase behaviour analysts say a lot. I recently attended the Geneva Centre for Autism’s Summer Training week where Nancy Marchese, a BCBA presented to a room full of teachers and related education professionals. “It depends!” was her answer to many “What should I do about a student who [insert behaviour challenge]?” and I was reminded of the utility of this phrase in sending home the message that Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an individualized and environment-specific approach.
If you ask me a similar question, my answer will be the same: “It depends!” It may seem like a cop-out but it actually speaks to the integrity of our field. I cannot give you an answer because I have not assessed what is going on in the environment for that particular person. While challenging behaviour may look the same, the circumstances surrounding the behaviour of each person may be very different. These circumstances change the reason (or the function for) why someone behaves the way they do. Each person comes with a set of strengths, a learning history and preferences or needs for certain reinforcers. These, and the environmental conditions at the time of the behaviour, establish how the student will respond.
Observing for and assessing the conditions surrounding a behaviour are part of what is known as a Functional Behaviour Assessment (FBA). We need to understand the “why” of a behaviour before we can intervene and possibly change it (if indeed a worthwhile behaviour to change). A behaviour analyst will guide a team on how to document the events that occur before, during and after a behaviour, as well to measure the behaviour - either its frequency, intensity, duration or accuracy. These notes and measurements are then analyzed for any patterns and trends which may begin to answer the question of, “Why?”. Only then can we possibly match an intervention that will be effective given the circumstances. Failure to answer this question of “why” can lead to guesses and a game of horseshoes. Armed with luck, you may throw a ringer but there’s also a lot of space to miss. ”Missing” the mark wastes valuable time and the problem behaviour persists. While it doesn’t give you the answer you need right now, taking the time to do an FBA can result in a more effective behaviour intervention plan.
What should I do about my student who blurts out on class? It depends
What can I do for my child who hits their brother? It depends
How can we help someone with depression or anxiety? It depends
There is no behaviour intervention manual. Behaviour support plans are not on the menu at the drive-thru (Sorry!). We are all such unique individuals that people get their own personal chef (a.k.a. behaviour analyst) to cook up a plan that’s just right for them.
What will I have for dinner today? It depends.
Take a S.E.A.T. and figure out the function
I’ll give you food for thought