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ABA Beyond Autism: The Future of Applied Behavior Analysis is Bright!

So, you love the field of ABA therapy and all the data taking techniques that come with it but autism is not the only demographic you want to work with? Maybe you just don’t want to work with children all together or would like to diversify the clients you provide your services for. What are the steps you need to take in order to take your skillset and rebrand yourself as an ABA therapist? Hmmm…well, a big part of this responsibility is going to lie on the overall Applied Behavior Analysis community to advocate for the expansion of different areas of expertise ABA can be applied to and this begins with you.

You don’t have to feel bad about wanting more from your credentials. Working repetitively in any given field can be daunting. It may feel like you are not growing as a person. The best way to begin leveraging your skills to other areas of interest is to sit down and write a list of all the things you are good at or would like to learn more about. Essentially, you want to see what you are truly passionate about and are willing to take the time to see how you can “apply” the principals of ABA into that field.

Areas of ABA that are already expanding due to the advocacy of passionate ABA therapist in different fields are ABA Sports & Fitness, ABA in the fight against Obesity, ABA Life Coaching and Counseling, ABA targeting disruptive and destructive behaviors such as OCD and Addiction, ABA Animal Behavioral Patterns & Communication, ABA Criminology, ABA Consumerism, and ABA Organizational & Planning Skills, along with so many more untapped areas of expertise! The beauty of our profession is that it has been built on sound research and science so it’s not going anywhere.

Ultimately, we are able to analyze the data to allow us to create programs based on factual evidence to produce a change. The data we provide as skilled behaviorist is essentially our voice to provide back to those who can benefit from its conclusion in order to help them produce new behaviors that gain satisfactory results! Does that sound like something that is only useful to autism patients? The reality is that everyone can benefit from the the subfield science that stems from psychology better known as behavior analysis from a well trained clinician.

If you would like to learn more about how ABA is shifting into more areas to help save the world make sure to subscribe to this blog!

WHAT IS STRUCTURED PLAY

What is Structured Play
ABA and Voice (blog)

In therapy you may have come across your supervisor explaining that structured play is required in the plan of care for your patient or client. What this simply means is that the activity is driven by you, the therapist, in which it should lead to a specific learning outcome. Unstructured play means that the child can play as they please without any specific requirements involved in reaching any set goal, if no goal at all. Although all play promotes healthy brain functioning and activity, structured play produces intentional learning results.

For example, think of this…you are playing a video game that requires a controller, (think, super smash brothers). But you have absolutely no idea what any of the buttons do. Therefore, you continue playing by smashing into each and every one of those buttons as you get to see your favorite character swoop and fall, and kick, and fall down the playing scene to its impending death in which you see it hover backup and rejuvenate again leading to minimal consequences. Then, if you head over to Twitch (if you’re into that kind of stuff) and you turn on a super smash brothers tournament game, you can tell that the level of playing is strategic with every single movement of their fingers coding in a move on their controller in order to defeat their opponent.

Another example would be when we use the keyboard to type or text a message to our friends. A guilty pleasure that seems effortless, but requires quite a good amount of neural functioning and coordination. We have to encode a message that is intentional for the decoder to receive it’s intentional meaning. Even though we sometimes generate an unintentional secondary meaning taken out of context. That is why I’m giving you a friendly reminder to always read your messages twice before sending). CLICK (oh no!)…But, our brain isn’t just passing over each of these letters without having programmed ourselves to do this in such a way that it is now effortless to produce the results of a message waiting to be received.

Imagine if we could trick developing young brains to learn through play? Hence the term “structured play”. We do this through structured, fun tasks in which the goal of the therapist is for the learner to like the props or activity at hand enough in order to facilitate learning outcomes. Structured play allows us to teach skills that are crucial for cognitive functioning in which the learner practices mastery of them with the hopes of using essential cognitive processing skills to last a lifetime.

SPEECH THERAPY IN AN ABA SETTING

The first time I’ve ever heard about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was from an amazing Speech Language Pathologist I had to opportunity to shadow. She didn’t seem to have the greatest things to share about the profession due to a “feeling” of ABA overstepping scope of practice. Therefore I became incredibly curious what this profession that was “competing” in working with children who have autism on communication goals was all about. She had referred to it much to the likes of “dog training”. Need I say more…

As a prospective SLP grad student at the time, I too, was concerned that the ABA field could limit my ability to work with kids who have autism and even went as far as to share the petition going around not allowing the ABA profession to bar SLP’s from working with this demographic by needing more training to be qualified. An SLP’s academic life is already full of vigorous preparation in which ABA qualification may seem minuscule in regards to getting children to produce speech and language goals. HOWEVER…

“Cheryl, whose side are you on anyways…Isn’t this a blog about ABA?” Yes, but as a dual licensed Speech Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) and aspiring ABA therapist I have to share some light of my experience working in an ABA setting as an SLPA first.

An ABA therapist spends about 20+ hours a week with their patient and should be preparing their behavior goals to prepare them for a speech therapy session to be as productive as possible for communication learning outcomes. Otherwise, that time will essentially go down the drain due to defiance or unresponsiveness to the task at hand.

Now, from my observation working in a behavioral setting as a speech therapist, no matter how skilled of a therapist we are, learning how to control a tantrum from an autism child exhibiting extreme defiance such as biting, kicking, screaming, and overall dangerous behavior is simply not a class taught in the average communication and sciences disorders curriculum. An SLP’s curriculum is heavily focused on the anatomy, physiology, and technique of producing speech and language outcomes through early intervention and pathologies, often life saving in regards to swallowing or receiving a tracheostomy procedure in a hospital setting whereas the behavioral side in typically left to be learned independently.

But who’s to judge at which profession needs additional training? Should an ABA therapist even be aloud to aim at communication goals when there is an entire profession ready to provide this or is it quite necessary given the minimal amount of time an autism or developmental disability patient may spend with an SLP on these goals? It appears that we will see these two professionals needing to become allies quite quickly and begin to see each other as a supporting part of each other’s plan of care (POC) team.

The best gift I was given at my first contracted speech therapy job was the ability to have a full ABA staff to observe & learn techniques from to stabilize behavior and increase communication learning outcomes. Now, I am able to stop a tantrum from getting out of control and optimize the therapy in my session to produce true results! That’s true collaboration and the journey has just begun.

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Thanks for reading!