If you’re a behaviour analyst (or studying behaviour analysis), the following scene might be familiar:
What do you do?
I am a behaviour analyst.
Oh. [pause] What is that exactly?
Well, I look at behaviours that people want to decrease, or the skills they want to increase. I analyze the situations in which they occur, or not occur, and then I help develop plans to either increase or decrease that behaviour.
I don’t know if my explanation describes fully what I do, but when you have 5-10 seconds to describe your profession before people become bored, that’s the most succinct schpeel I have. Sometimes that’s enough small talk for one person and we move on to something else.
So, how about those Blue Jays?
Still, others are intrigued and we may go into it a little more.
When I think about what I do, I have lots to say. I try to make use of anecdotes and analogies to explain what I do while refrain from using too much jargon (though, I still try to use correct terms where fitting). A teacher colleague, in her attempt to explain my role to a student we were supporting, provided a most-fitting analogy: “She’s like a road sign-maker”.
To quote Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway” (a little Canadian reference) and on that highway are many exits, routes and detours a person can take; each representing a possible behaviour. It is my job to plan or consult on which route may be easiest, effective and most efficient for our ‘driver’.
Along the way, I may put up road signs that help guide our learner in a direction that works for them, sets the pace or that warns them of inconvenience or danger ahead. We might consider these antecedent strategies.
In some cases, I come along with a bulldozer and clear a whole new path for our driver. This sets them up on a different route; yet, still arriving at their intended destination. We may call these replacement behaviours or alternate skills to teach. He or she will still need a map and road signs to help them navigate, but at least this route is safer for acceptable for all.
And finally, I often wave our ‘driver’ in with indications that he or she is on track and almost there. Sometimes my flag may signal them to slow down or it redirects them to pull-over and check their map. When they have arrived, we wave the checkered flag and celebrate their accomplishment. Even driving has its consequences, teaching the learner which route(s) ends up working the best.
If you think of behaviour analysis as a road map, you can see that any number of routes are possible. There is no one way to get us where we want/need to be. The road conditions are always changing and behaviour analysts are there to assess the situation and plan accordingly.
Today, I was sign-maker, road-paver and a flag-waver.
I like this road analogy.