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How to Get a Job with Autism: An Introduction and Resources.

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With an unemployment rate near 80%, demand for jobs by individuals with autism is high.  While jobs for those with autism and other disabilities is not unheard of, things are looking brighter these days.

For example, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Operations, Mary Ellen Smith recently announced a new initiative to hire individuals with autism.  Actually, Microsoft has a long history of hiring people with disabilities through it's Supported Employment program, but the new collaboration between Microsoft and Specialisterne marks a scaling-up specifically in regards to the autism community.  

With locations in 11 countries, Specialisterne is a foundation that "works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mind-set."  

Mary Ellen noted "people with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code."

But Microsoft isn't the only tech company recruiting individuals with autism.  The multibillion dollar IT giant SAP announced a similar initiative last year.  Thorkil Sonne, the founder of SAP's Autism at Work program, noted "there is no reason why we should leave these people unemployed when they have so much talent and there are so many vacant jobs in the high tech sector."

Part of the increasing employment trend relates to increased insurance coverage for autism treatment. Microsoft recently added coverage under its plan, and it was quickly followed by many other tech companies such as Intel, Qualcomm, Apple, Cisco Systems and Oracle.

For additional reading on employment opportunities for individuals with autism, see the Autism Speaks Employment Toolkit, and the TEACCH Autism Program designed to teach employment skills to individuals with autism.

Have you struggled finding employment for a friend or family member with autism?  Do you have autism and struggling to find a job?  Share your story in the comments below.  Also, don't forget to join the bSci21 community on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and via email subscription!

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10 Myths of Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis has seen enormous growth over the past 15 years due to its successes in the areas of autism and developmental disabilities.  ABA is unique in that it's analytic goals are the prediction and influence of behavior.  With goals such as those, behavior analysts are primarily concerned with one thing and one thing only -- behavior change.  

What may be surprising to some is that the pragmatic goal of behavior change is quite unique among the social sciences.  Most other approaches seek "understanding" and regard it as something other than behavior change.  To behavior analysts, however, you "understand" behavior to the extent that you can predict and influence it.  Moreover, the very definition of behavior is more broad than most other fields -- even the so-called "mental" events are regarded as behavior.  ABA is a science of action -- behavior analysts take what others think of as "things" (e.g., states of mind, traits, etc...) and reconceptualize them as actions nested in a context (e.g., instead of "memories" behavior analysts talk of "remembering"; instead of "traits" behavior analysts talk of "stimulus generalization" etc...).

Guess what, this approach has paid off big time.  ABA is the treatment of choice for autism.  Nevertheless, the field is not without critics, and the National Autism Network lists ten myths of ABA that we will summarize below.

Myth #1: ABA is not a scientifically proven form of therapy for autism.
The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of ABA.  In fact, over 550 peer-reviewed studies have been published demonstrated the effectiveness of ABA with individuals with autism.  ABA is the most established autism treatment by insurance providers, and is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, The National Standards Project, and The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

Myth #2: ABA therapy is a new treatment for autism.
ABA as a field has been around since the 1950s and saw major successes with autism starting in the 1970s with the pioneering work of Ivar Lovaas.  

Myth #3: All ABA programs are the same.
ABA is a science of individual behavior.  This has been true since the earliest days of B.F. Skinner's "cumulative records," and has been a distinguishing feature of the field ever since.  Behavior analysts take a route that is different than most others in the social sciences -- instead of learning a little about a lot of people in large groups, behavior analysts learn a lot about a few individuals at a time.  The latter is in line with the pragmatic goals of behavior change.  In the practice of ABA, every case is different because every individual is different -- has a different history, family life, school situation, likes and dislikes, etc...  Thus, every Behavior Support Plan is customized to each individual's unique life situation.

Myth #4: ABA is composed of solely table work/sitting.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is certainly one approach used in ABA, but it is not the defining feature.  For example, incidental teaching or "natural environment training" includes working with the individual as they go about their day.  In these cases, behavior analysts will provide prompts, reinforcers, activity schedules, modeling, etc... in the moment, when the skills are most needed.  Each approach has its place.

Myth #5: ABA therapy is only for children with autism.
Applied Behavior Analysis has documented applications across a wide spectrum of behavior including Organizational Behavior Management, environmental sustainability, and many others.  Just check out the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and Behavior & Social Issues to see for yourself.

Myth #6: ABA therapy promotes robotic language/behavior.
Behavioral rigidity is one of the characteristics of autism, and many mental disorders.  ABA treatments seek to overcome rigidity by teaching multiple exemplars and teaching for generalization to the real-world situations relevant to the individual.  In the beginning of a program, responses might seem overly simplified and therefore "robotic" but you need behavior to work with, and those skills are eventually built up and transferred to naturalistic settings in a functional manner.

Myth #7: Anybody can direct an ABA treatment program.
If your state covers ABA treatment, it must be overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).  BCBAs undergo a long course sequence in many aspects of ABA, in addition to a lengthy (1500 hours) supervised fieldwork experience.

Myth #8: Children must undergo 40-hours of ABA therapy a week to achieve a positive effect.
The length and intensity of any ABA program is dependent upon the individual and his/her baseline behavioral state.  As mentioned above, the key feature of ABA is it's focus on individuals, rather than groups.  ABA is not a one-size-fits-all treatment.

Myth #9: ABA programs institute punishment in their teaching procedures.
In the early days of ABA, punishment was used more often but today positive reinforcement is the overwhelmingly dominant mode of behavior change.  Punishment might be used in rare cases, for example, to prevent serious self-injury to oneself, but reinforcement can be used in a given situation, it will be.  If punishment is absolutely necessary, reinforcement procedures targeting alternative behavior should be in place concurrently.

Myth #10: ABA uses bribes consisting of food and toys to manipulate children's behavior.
There is a difference between bribes and reinforcers.  Reinforcers occur after a behavior and are specifically geared to increase a particular type of behavior.  Bribes, on the other hand, are made before the person engages in behavior and are often times directed at the person rather than his/her behavior.  Moreover, bribes connote immoral or illegal behavior.  Regarding reinforcers, food is a particularly useful reinforcer at the beginning of an ABA program, especially if the individual is a child and/or has little to no language skills.  However, pairing the food with other things, such as social praise, allows those things to become reinforcers themselves and gives you more to work with. 

To read more about these myths, visit the National Autism Network.

Do you encounter these or other myths in your work?  Let us know in the comments below!  Also, consider joining bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and via email subscription at the to of the page!

Warning...Behavior-Based Safety 2.0 is Coming!

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by Manny Rodriguez, M.S.
bSci21 contributing writer

Safety is a “Concern”

Safety is universally accepted as a good thing, the right thing to focus on.  It is a focus area around the globe for organizations (occupational safety, process safety, ergonomics), health care providers (insurance, behavioral health, gerontology, sports), government agencies (motor vehicle safety, pedestrian safety), and in educational systems (school security and safety).  Safety has also become a major subject matter in recent headlines, and not in a good way.  United Airlines, for example, has its fair share of media press in 2015 due to airplane incidents, the investigations highlighting several behavioral challenges that are not uncommon to other organizations  

Organizations need solutions that work, solutions to make a significant difference in peoples safety.  Solutions like Behavior Based Safety (BBS)!  So why isn’t everyone doing BBS?  For those who are not familiar with BBS, here is a brief summary of the methodology.

Briefly, Behavior Based Safety

BBS has been around for several decades now, heavily written and researched by safety professionals and behavior analysts alike.  There are iterations of the approach to implementing BBS, with some common elements being prominent, and multiple evidence of success (see Beth Sulzer-Azaroff and John Austin, American Society of Safety Engineers, July 2000):

1) Identify and target behaviors that impact safety.
2) Define those behaviors precisely to measure them.
3) Develop and implement processes to measure those behaviors. 
4) Provide feedback to the person being observed.
5) Analyze the behavior, looking for trends that need more systemic changes.
6) Provide reinforcement of progress.  

So why isn’t Behavior-Based Safety the go-to answer?

Pointless! Stale! Boring! Lacks Results!  

From time to time, organizations run into initiatives, programs, and just plain old “pet projects” that have resulted in one, all, or more of these words used to describe them. In the area of Behavior-Based Safety, researchers, consultants, and organizations from across the world will tell stories of positive results, culture change, and being a differentiator in safety performance.  That being said, organizations have also been faced with the feedback of BBS being pointless, stale, boring, and lacking results.  This would seem counter to the glowing reviews so many have written about.  

In my experience, I have seen my fair share of successes and failures when it comes to BBS.  It got to a point where I found myself working with a few like-minded individuals and said, “enough is enough.”  

We knew BBS has made a difference.

We have applied research and experiences implementing BBS that worked.

We knew a step change in how BBS was implemented was needed.

To unlock the very essence and power of behavioral science applied to safety, and make it meaningful for all employees and key stakeholders of organizations, and to influence the naysayers, doubters and resistors, we delved into redefining how we implemented BBS and the very behaviors of interest.  This effort became the very catalyst for repurposing BBS in a new way – what has been affectionately referred to as BBS 2.0.    

BBS 2.0

BBS 2.0 started with the very focus of the process itself, namely safety.  

Safety is the state of being "safe," the condition of being protected against non-desirable consequences such as failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or death.  

Safety can also be defined as the control of recognized hazards to an acceptable level of risk.  

After defining what is meant by safety, my colleagues and I focused on one element that stood out to our team as different from traditional BBS: the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk.

In reviewing some literature and research in the field of BBS, we found a key element missing, a focus on the skill of hazard recognition, understanding risk, and how to make informed decisions to determine if a task was safe or unsafe to proceed.  The very element of hazard recognition and risk mitigation is the very focus of BBS 2.0.  

Direct observation and providing feedback is still in tact in BBS 2.0 as it is in the traditional BBS methodology.  However, rather than observe for a targeted list of behaviors, the focus is on the performers ability to identify hazards, mitigate those hazards based on a risk assessment, and describe their decisions to perform the task based on the level of risk and their ability to perform it safely.  

This skill-based approach has another value proposition, namely developing a skill that can transfer to other similar situations and contact multiple levels of reinforcement – what behavior analysis would term a behavioral cusp (a subject matter for a later post).

BBS 2.0 is new, different, and can be seen as a good thing to try but please note no empirical studies have been conducted to validate its purpose, other than this author's anecdotal testimony that it is a great thing to do, makes a positive difference in people's lives at work, and can make a positive impact for organizations around the globe in the name of safety.

In Closing…

It is the opinion of this author that organizations like United Airlines and other multi-national organizations would benefit from looking at behaviors that are broader than lifting at the knees, proper PPE, and other traditionally targeted behaviors.  By utilizing a BBS 2.0 approach, skills such as hazard recognition, coaching, and feedback can be focused on as a group of behaviors that if developed and reinforced appropriately, will improve safety, improve employee engagement, and ultimately save lives.  

Let us know your thoughts on BBS 2.0 in the comments below! Also, don't forget to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and via email subscription at the top of the page!


CNN (February 27, 2015). United warns pilots after 'significant safety concerns' (United Airlines memo to pilots outlines safety concerns. By Rene Marsh, CNN Aviation and Government Regulation Correspondent. Retrieved on at 7:18 PM ET. 

Daniels, A. (2013). What is Behavior-Based Safety? A Look at the History and its Connection to Science.  Retrieved from

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., and Austin, J. (2000). Does BBS Work? Behavior-Based Safety & Injury Reduction: A Survey of the Evidence.  American Society of Safety Engineers. July 2000, page 19-24.

About the author:
With over ten years experience, Manny has worked with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President-Elect of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

Seven Misconceptions of Toilet Training

Alison Karnes, M.A.
by Alison Karnes, M.A.
bSci21 Contributing Writer

For years, parents and other stakeholders have experienced the difficulty associated with toilet training.  Parents of children with disabilities may find toilet training even more challenging, leading to many individuals with disabilities remaining incontinent throughout their lives.  Interestingly, the longer one uses a diaper instead of the toilet, the greater the reinforcement history for using the diaper instead of the toilet, and the more challenging it will be to implement a toilet training procedure.  Being a biological function, it is clear that excretion is maintained by automatic reinforcement and that a child’s toiling behaviors will occur whether or not the child uses the toilet.  Therefore, using the toilet instead of a diaper or pull-up might be maintained by additional reinforcement such as social praise and/or access to tangible items.  It is important to eliminate medical causes for incontinence before beginning a toilet training procedure.

The Applied Behavior Analysis program at the University of Arkansas recently provided training for parents of children with disabilities which provided parents tools to improve their children’s independent toileting behaviors.  I presented a toilet training procedure that was modified from the research of Azrin and Foxx.  Following this experience, it became clear there were many common misconceptions regarding toileting.  I have summarized them here:

1.  Must remain dry throughout the night.  Many parents assume or have been informed that if their children wet the bed at night, toilet training is not an appropriate option. However, children can be independent in their toileting skills during the day but continue to wet the bed at night.  For example, a child may be on a two-hour schedule for toilet training throughout the day.  Assuming that he or she sleeps for 8-hours, this presents 4 different interval markers at which time the child typically engages in toileting behaviors.  The biological nature of sleeping and toileting makes it challenging for parents to establish contingencies overnight.  Bedwetting might warrant an additional toilet training procedure in which parents would wake up the child at set intervals in order to provide opportunities throughout the night for the child to use the toilet and to access additional reinforcement for staying dry throughout the night.
2.  Must be able to dress self.  Because dressing skills are used in the process of completing the behavior chain of using the bathroom, it can be easily misconceived that a child must be independent in his or her dressing skills prior to toilet training.  The use of a prompting procedure for a child’s dressing skills remains effective when implementing a toilet training procedure.  The child’s dressing skills should be addressed in a program unaffiliated with the toilet training procedure, as the sole focus of toilet training should be toilet training.

3.  Must be at a developmental age consistent with typical age to start toilet training.  Some might assume that a child who is chronologically 5 years old but is developmentally testing around 2 years old is not a candidate for toilet training.  However, because toileting is mostly biologically regulated, this child may be “ready” to begin a toilet training procedure.  It is more important to determine if the child is showing signs of readiness for toileting such as, indicating discomfort when wet; remaining dry for over 30 minutes; and showing interest in the toileting behaviors of others.  A child may be an appropriate candidate for a toilet training procedure if she is displaying any of these readiness signs.

4.  Must be able to initiate toileting needs to parent or other adult.  Although this initiation is a sign of readiness, it is not a prerequisite skill.  A toilet training protocol can promote independent manding (requesting), if the parent prompts the child to request “potty” or "bathroom" prior to taking the child to use the toilet.  After the child is able to remain dry for extended periods, parents may decide to use visual aids to serve as discriminative stimuli for the child to use the toilet when needed.

5.   Boys must urinate while standing.  When teaching a child to use the toilet, it is important for the child to be provided every opportunity to be successful.  For many children, it takes longer to become successful with bowel movements than with urination.  When implementing a toilet training protocol with a boy, it is important to have him sit on the toilet for both urination and bowel movements in order to provide multiple opportunities for the child to have a bowel movement in the toilet.

6.  Children will outgrow their fears of the bathroom.  While this might be true to some extent, a proper behavioral systematic desensitization program should be implemented to decrease the child’s initial fears of the bathroom.  Parents can promote familiarity with the bathroom by having the child engage in reinforcing activities in the bathroom, such as watching a movie while sitting on the toilet with a closed lid, playing in the bathtub with swim toys, etc.  Once the child’s fears of the bathroom have decreased, the child may be a more acceptable candidate for toilet training.

7.  Children should be taught to use a portable potty before transitioning to the toilet.  When it comes to toilet training, providing a child every opportunity to be successful was mentioned previously as being an important factor in a successful procedure. Although the practice of using a portable potty before transitioning to the toilet may be successful for some, it may be challenging for others to generalize the use of the portable potty to the use of the toilet.  There are many options for child-safe toilet seat attachments, so the child is able to use the toilet from the onset of the training procedure.

In summary, I have addressed several of the misconceptions that parents and other stakeholders have regarding toilet training.  Following a behavioral protocol for toileting behaviors is an effective tool used to improve independence in toileting skills for children with disabilities.  

We would love to hear your toilet training experiences in the comments below!  Also, be sure to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and via email subscription at the top of the page!

About the author:
Alison Karnes, M.A., is a first-year doctoral student at the University of Arkansas studying Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders.  She currently works as a behavioral consultant and manages program quality for a statewide early intervention program, providing behavior analytic treatment to children with Autism.  Her research concentration addresses the effects of using iPad technology for improving language development in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other communication disorders.  

How to Increase Hand Sanitizer Use with ABA

A college cafeteria is filled with germs.  Thousands of people a week come in and out, their hands having been who-knows-where.  Those hands touch the same counters, trays, tables, and chairs that you do.  People sneeze and cough.  You get the picture.

How often do you think people actually wash their hands in these places?  According to Fournier and Berry in the journal Behavior and Social Issues, not many.  But, fear not, for they have a solution.

Research assistants hung around a college cafeteria for seven weeks, unobtrusively observing approximately 208 students per day.  During the initial baseline phase, consisting of a hand sanitizer dispenser alone, no students utilized the dispenser.  However, when the researchers added an informational poster and a research assistant actively promoting the use of sanitizer, use increased to over 60% of the population.   Finally, when the promoter was removed to leave only the informational poster, use decreased to approx. 17%.  

Fournier and Berry point out that the intervention was cheap, totaling approx. $55.00 for the dispenser and informational poster.  However, the research assistant promoting the sanitizer was unpaid.  The question for the future, then, is how to maximize sanitizer use as efficiently as possible.  The informational poster produced modest effects, but the in-person promotion produced much higher effects.  A poster is cheap, but a promoter is more expensive and logistically challenging.  One solution, says the authors, is to incorporate sanitizer promotion into the duties of cafeteria staff.

Do you think this type of intervention would be useful in your organization?  Let us know in the comments below!  Also, be sure to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and via email subscription at the top of the page!

Challenged? Try Behavioral Momentum!

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by Manny Rodriguez, M.S.
bSci21 contributing writer

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.
Have you ever faced a challenge that just seemed unbelievably difficult to overcome?  Do you have a colleague, friend, student, or child that is facing such a challenge? If you are faced with a challenge, personally or professionally, or know someone who is, try behavioral momentum!

Ok, that sounded like a really bad infomercial I know, but bear with me.  Behavioral Momentum does work!  Research has proven it.  Practitioners in the science of human behavior use it.  So can you!

Behavioral momentum refers to the tendency for behavior to persist following a change in environmental conditions. The tendency for behavior, once initiated and reinforced, establishes a habit to persist in the face of a challenge.

Behavioral momentum methodologies have been researched heavily working with children, in therapy of children and adults diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Classroom Management, Sports, and in one case with business students.

Behavioral momentum in practice can be broken into 3 parts

1) Introduce instructions with a high probability of success first.  High-probability instructions are a series of instructions presented immediately before an instruction for which there is a low probability of behavior, an effective method for increasing compliance. 

2) Present an instruction or task that previously had a low probability of success.  An instruction for which there is a low probability of behavior is presented following the high proposal instruction.  

3) Reinforcement.  Without reinforcement for both high probability and low probability behaviors, the behavior you want won’t happen.  

By following a pattern such as…
you increase the probability to do the “hard” behavior you are focused on.

This seems like one of those simple, obvious things that everyone knows to do, right? Wrong…

What we have all seen time and time again is that a challenge presents itself, and the easy things are much more reinforcing than the hard things, and when we first attempt the hard thing, we give up.  I know I have.  But I am still trying.  

I am working on a challenge myself using behavioral momentum.  Everyday, my goal is to do something healthy.  Exercise, eat right, walk…whatever is deemed “healthy behavior” is what I look to do everyday.  For me, that’s the “hard” stuff.  In addition, I am faced with a daily challenge – small children, full time workload in front of a computer (the very one I wrote this article on), and my personal interest of food.  The high probability tasks I engage in are playing with my children, working on the computer (yes, work for me is fun), and talking with colleagues, friends and my family.  The low probability tasks are things like working out, walking, and eating healthy.  I am presenting myself with all my high probability tasks that have ample reinforcement, followed by a low probability task.  Guess what…it is working.  I have lost 20 pounds and had fun doing it.  When I struggle, I just change my pattern of easy and hard tasks and get positive results, and I am not stopping (3 years and still going).

Understanding the factors that affect our behavior and motivations and how to use behavioral momentum has important implications for anyone who wants to tackle challenges. 

Try it! Tackle a new challenge using Behavioral Momentum…it works!

A Few References for your Reading Pleasure:

Behavioral Sport Psychology. Evidence-Based Approaches to Performance Enhancement. Luiselli, J, Reed, D. (Eds.).  1st Edition. 2011

Mace, F. (1996). In pursuit of general behavioral relations. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.  Volume 29, pages 557-563.

Nevin, J. (1996).  The momentum of compliance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 29, pages 535-547.

Nevin, J., Shahan, T. (2011).  Behavioral Momentum theory: Equations and Applications. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 44, pages 877-895.

Roane, H., Kelley, M., Trosclair, N., and Hauer, L.. (2004). Behavioral momentum in sports: a partial replication with women's basketball. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 37, Issue 3, 385-390.

Tell us how you use behavioral momentum in the comments below!  Also, don't forget to join bSci21 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and via email subscription at the top of the page!

About the author:
With over ten years experience, Manny has worked with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President-Elect of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.