Behavioral Science in the 22nd Century

Behavior Analysis is a parsimonious science that explains human behavior as a function of its’ environmental context (Catania, 2013; De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes, & Moors, 2013). This science defines behavior in measurable observable ways to allow for objective evaluations of the unique contexts under which behavior occurs. The context in which behavior occurs explains the instrumental nature of the behavior for the individual. That is, the need the behavior fulfills for the individual behaving. Context of behavior can be described as what happens before, and what happens immediately after the behavior. The context describes what is often called a functional relationship between environment events and behavior (Catania, 2013). Trying to understand behavior from the perspective of environmental contexts may avoid internal labels for causes of behavior, as well as possible blaming of the individual or community (Skinner, 1972).

           There are additional factors to be considered when analyzing behavior in Behavior Analysis. These include species-specific structures, and species-specific survival responses to specific environmental contexts. For example, certain behavior has been selected genetically over the course of evolution to ensure the survival of the species. This produces specific structures across different species or ethnic groups. The gag response we all experience when we eat rotten food is an example. This looks the same across multiple people and has been chosen over various generations because it guarantees that we all survive, as rotten food could produce some very difficult medical conditions, which could possibly result in death. Similarly, cultural practices are also considered when analyzing behavior. Cultural practices, like individual behavior and genetic predisposed responses, operate around environmental context (Biglan, 1995). The cultural practices are selected due to the survival value such practices affords the majority of individuals within the culture. For example, our cultural environment in the USA selects practices like long summer vacations for students, because many years ago, these practices guaranteed help to harvest crop which provided food and income (Pederson, 2012). Other cultural practices that have value in today’s society include, presidential elections, baby showers, potlucks, block parties etc. Each of these practices occur in specific situations, and have certain preferable consequences for specific cultures.

          As an applied science, Behavior Analysis allows society to focus on individuals and communities within their unique contexts to allow us to change behavior effectively to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities. Many demonstrations of this useful effect exist in literature and the environments around us every day (Altus & Morris, 2009). The traffic light signals and the email notification sounds are some everyday examples of how the powerful principles of Behavior Analysis help us better our lives today. The contextual approach to understanding behavior provided by Behavior Analysis allows for easy integration into other fields of study such as evolution science (Biglan, 2018). By integrating the contextual approach to analyzing behavior of individuals/groups into fields like evolution science, we may be able to understand situations that make behavior/cultural practices more probable, as well as identify their maintaining consequences. This integration may allow for a more cooperative research and practioner community necessary to address cultural challenges such as racism, lack of disability rights, ableism and other social issues. I do not have data to support this, however I believe analyzing these issues from a cultural level while evaluating the context, may allow us to determine the functional relationships between certain cultural practices and our community’s needs. As a result, we may be able to make changes to the maintaining variables of these practices to change such practices effectively. In addition, we may also be able identify the needs fulfilled by these practices, so we can provide them non-contingently, eliminating the need for such practices to occur in the first place.

         As our society moves into the 22nd century, there is a need to harness the powerful empirical findings from our most effective scientific fields to improve our lives. Our societies are not the same welcoming, beautiful and nurturing communities they use to be. Issues such as lack of disability policy, ableism, health care disparity, racism, and pollution to mention a few, threaten the survival of our society as a whole. As LEND trainees, I encourage you to reach out to fellow trainees to learn about their fields and effective scientific advancements in these fields. How can all these findings be combined into a comprehensive research and practice framework? Let us all rely on empirical evidence to drive effective action for all members of the community as a whole. Replicate practices based on empirical evidence, either through research or observable evidence from practice. Welcome diverse opinions and try to examine behavior within its context, it makes a big difference. Here is an interesting website from Behavior and Social issues https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/bsi.

 References

Altus, D. E., & Morris, E. K. (2009). BF Skinner’s utopian vision: Behind and beyond Walden Two. The Behavior Analyst32(2), 319-335.

Biglan, A. (1995). Changing cultural practices: A contextualist framework for intervention research. Context Press.

Biglan, A. (2018). Evolution and contextual behavioral science: An integrated framework for understanding, predicting, and influencing human behavior. New Harbinger Publications.

Catania, A. C. (2013). Learning (5th ed.). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing. 

De Houwer, J., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Moors, A. (2013). What is learning? On the nature and merits of a functional definition of learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review20(4), 631-642.

Pedersen, J. (2012). The History of School and Summer Vacation. Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education5(1), 54-62.

Skinner, B. F. (1972). Beyond freedom and dignity (No. 04; BF319. 5. O6, S5.). New York: Bantam Books.

 

 

 Kwadwo Britwum

 

Autism in Women: Critical Awareness and a Call to Action by Hena Thakur

In the United States, 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism and prevalence rates are currently higher among males than among females (Baio et al, 2018). At first glance, these statistics may suggest that autism is a predominantly “male” condition. In fact, media outlets, such as the television show Atypical, overwhelmingly portray individuals with autism as male characters. Recent investigations, however, have emphasized that our current screening and diagnostic systems are suboptimal for detecting autism among females.

Relative to males, females must often display more impairing symptoms, as well as a higher severity of behavioral and emotional concerns, to meet criteria for autism (Dworzynski, Ronald, Bolton, & Happe´,2012; Russell, Ford, Steer, & Golding, 2010). Current explanations for this discrepancy include the proposition that diagnostic systems, which have been developed and validated within male only samples, do not adequately capture characteristics of autism that are found among females (e.g., Lai, Lombardo, Auyeung, Chakrabarti, & Baron-Cohen, 2015). For example, females are less likely to demonstrate externalizing behavior, which reduces the likelihood for referrals for evaluation and recognition of repetitive/stereotyped behavior (Van Wjingaarden-Cremers et al., 2014). Receiving a diagnosis earlier rather than later can help improve quality of life, thus adequate screening and assessment procedures for females deserve further attention.

For an emerging clinician-researcher, these discussions have highlighted the importance of thinking critically about the methods and materials we use to screen and diagnose individuals within clinical contexts. It is encouraging to witness these conversations occurring across different platforms, including autism specific blogs, mainstream news outlets, and academic journals. In addition, institutions such as the University of Illinois Autism Clinic (UIAC) and The Autism Program at the University of Illinois (TAP), are teaming up to provide a women’s group for female adolescents with autism. During these sessions, adolescents will have an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics, including social skills, executive functioning, and sexual education. Although not directly addressing the issue of diagnosis, this initiative acknowledges and celebrates a sub-population of the autism community that has long been overshadowed.

Photo Description: A woman is looking down with her left hand against her forehead. She is surrounded by waves consisting of different shapes, including rectangles, triangles, and swirls.  Photo credit: Rebecca Hendin/ BuzzFeed,  www. buzzfeed.com

Photo Description: A woman is looking down with her left hand against her forehead. She is surrounded by waves consisting of different shapes, including rectangles, triangles, and swirls.

Photo credit: Rebecca Hendin/ BuzzFeed, www.buzzfeed.com

References

Baio, J., Wiggins, L., Christensen, D. L., Maenner, M. J., Daniels, J., Warren, Z., ... & Durkin, M. S. (2018). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder among children aged 8 years—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2014. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 67(6), 1.

Dworzynski, K., Ronald, A., Bolton, P., & Happe´, F. (2012). How different are girls and boys above and below the diagnostic threshold for autism spectrum disorders? Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(8), 788–797. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2012.05.018.

Lai, M.-C., Lombardo, M. V., Auyeung, B., Chakrabarti, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Sex/gender differences and autism: Setting the scene for future research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 11–24. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.10.003.

Russell, G., Ford, T., Steer, C., & Golding, J. (2010). Identification of children with the same level of impairment as children on the autistic spectrum, and analysis of their service use. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 51(6), 643–651. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02233.x.

van Wijngaarden-Cremers, P. J., van Eeten, E., Groen, W. B., van Deurzen, P. A., Oosterling, I. J., & van der Gaag, R. J. (2014). Gender and age differences in the core triad of impairments in autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review and metaanalysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(3), 627–635.

Neurodiversity: It’s Okay to Think Differently!!

As a disability studies trainee and proud neurodivergent person, I wanted to share a little about neurodiversity, the movement of acceptance for all ways of thinking, learning, and being.  Neurodiversity recognizes that differences which have historically been pathologized are not inherently harmful or problematic. The neurodiversity movement believes these natural differences in neurotype (how one’s brain functions) should be celebrated, rather than corrected. Though neurodiversity was initially championed by autistic self-advocates, it has grown to include those with intellectual disabilities, ADHD, learning disabilities, mental health conditions, and other disabilities that affect how one thinks and feels in the world. Though the history of the term is unclear, it has been attributed to both Jim Sinclair, an autistic advocate, and Judy Singer, an autistic scientist.

 

There are also misconceptions and criticisms of neurodiversity, even from those within the neurodivergent community. One common misconception is that individuals who believe in neurodiversity reject all medication, therapy, and other interventions to address their condition. While neurodiversity recognizes the value in different ways of thinking and being, individuals are encouraged to make decisions about treatment, including medications, that work for them. Another misconception is the belief that neurodiversity is only for individuals who are labeled “high-functioning” or have low support needs. The community rejects functioning labels because how well one functions is contingent on how well their needs are being met. Neurodiversity recognizes the dignity of individuals who have different support needs, including those who use assistive technology and live interdependently, contributing to and benefiting from life in community. Neurodiversity also challenges expectations of “normal functioning,” which value certain ways of moving, communicating, living, and working over others. Such expectations are especially pervasive in schools and workplaces, creating a substantial barrier to education and employment for neurodivergent people.

 

Disabled people, especially those with developmental, learning, and psychiatric disabilities, experience internalized ableism and shame about who we are. Neurodiversity provides the opportunity to celebrate ourselves and our communities. As clinicians, advocates, and professionals, understanding neurodiversity can help you to understand and respect your patients, students, or clients who think differently.

 

Helen Rottier

Life as a continuous learning experience

As health care professionals it is extremely important that we stay up to date on the current evidence to support the treatment approaches we are using in practice. In addition to that, we also want to make sure we are listening to the needs of the populations we are working with.   

You might be asking, well how can I make sure I stay on top of all the research and evidence? And how do I make sure I hear the voices of the communities I am working with? Well there are many resources out there that can help you!

The first thing I would recommend is making sure you are subscribed to your national organization as they are constantly updating their website and disseminating new research related to your field. For example, my national organization is the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Typically, organizations have annual conferences that showcase the current evidence supporting new intervention approaches.

Next, I would also recommend you figure out if your state has any organization related to your field. Illinois has the Illinois Occupational Therapy Association (ILOTA). I personally enjoy being involved with this organization because they have local conferences that I can easily attend.

Over the years I have also come across some unique programs that have a variety of online trainings and resources for practitioners. Here are some of the ones I frequently check:

1.      Early Intervention Training Program

o   They have several free online webinars that can be useful for individuals that are working in early intervention or are considering going into this practice setting

2.       Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)

o   AUCD offers several events and webinars open to the public

In terms of making sure you are listening to the needs of your population, I recommend building a connection with an organization that serves your target audience. For example, my area of interest is pediatrics and families. I have recently started volunteering at two community organizations that work with families of children with disabilities. With just a few sessions of interactions I have been able to identify areas of need that they have and ways in which I can assist them. One organization I want to highlight is:

1.      Grupo Salto

o   Grupo Salto was started back in 2005 with the intention of providing supports to Spanish-speaking families from Chicago who have a child with autism. The goal of Grupo Salto is to empower families and be advocates for change. The group meets monthly to provide educational seminars and social activities.

o   They have their 1st Disabilities Conference in Spanish coming up on April 6th, 2019. There are many ways in which you can get involved to make this a successful event! Contact them via gruposalto@gruposalto.org

Remember, although you may have completed, or are in the process of completing your educational requirements to be a health provider, there is an abundance of knowledge that we can still learn from on an everyday basis! I encourage you to read a new article, a new blog, or listen to a webinar at least once a week!

Jazmin Landa

The Government Shutdown: A Debacle for All, Especially Individuals with Disabilities

According to the Washington Post, approximately 800,000 federal government employees have been impacted financially by the partial government shutdown resulting from the Congress' inability to agree upon a budget. While Congress debates over one controversial issue - the inclusion of funding for a border wall, the effects of the shutdown creates more issues and ceases the services and supports that already have bipartisan and taxpayer support.

Members of the Disability Justice Initiative and Center for American Progress describe five ways the government shutdown is impacting individuals. One is obvious, during the shutdown many government workers do not get paid, but in some "essential" cases must still work. What may not be obvious is that finding part-time or alternative work in the mean time for individuals with disabilities can often be challenging. This is especially true for contracted workers or individuals who are working for the government as part of community-partnerships specific to individuals with disabilities. Second, a lapse in USDA funding has left individuals dependent on SNAP, WIC, free/reduced school lunch, and CAFCP funding with uncertainty in regards to how long they will have benefits. According to the Food Research & Action Center, "food insecurity disproportionately affects people with disabilities. In 2009-2010, households with adults living with disabilities experienced a food insecurity rate of 33 percent — almost three times the rate at which households with no adults with disabilities were food insecure (12 percent)." The organization states that one in five households receiving SNAP benefits includes an individual with disabilities. Another impact of the shutdown relates to housing. According to the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is shutdown with a lapse in funding, putting at-risk the rental assistance programs that provide supportive and safe housing for more than 5 million low-income households. According to HUD, approximately 20 percent of individuals that receive HUD rental assistance have a disability. Lastly, it is important to remember that many state and local programs rely upon federal funding. If the government shutdown results in a lapse in funding for these programs, transportation, healthcare, Head Start programming, public transportation, and more could be impacted. Individuals with disabilities often utilize such programs. In fact, according to the National Council on Disability, 6 million Americans with disabilities have difficulties obtaining the transportation they need and utilize public transportation services.

As we move forward, it is essential we continue to communicate to our legislature the impact that the government shutdown is having on all of us, including individuals with disabilities. While the "major" issue that has initiated this shutdown is controversial, the services and supports that have ceased or are at-risk of ceasing are common sense and withholding them is cruel.

 

Michelle M. Sands

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Doctoral Student - Department of Special Education

msands4@illinois.edu

 

How to Talk to Someone Who "Can't Talk"

Whether it is at work, school, or out in the community, it is almost a guarantee that at some point in their life, everyone will meet someone without the ability to verbally communicate. This characteristic can occur in all sorts of populations for all sorts of reasons. These populations can include individuals with autism spectrum disorder, individuals with cerebral palsy, stroke survivors, traumatic brain injury survivors, individuals with neurodegenerative disorders, and many more. Because of this variety and likelihood of a rendezvous, it is very important for everyone to know how to handle this type of interaction appropriately and pleasantly.

A common misconception is that if someone can’t talk, there is no way to communicate with them. That’s incorrect! Just because physical speech isn’t present in an individual, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to hear and understand you, as well as form their own thoughts, opinions, ideas, and judgments of your character. Watch yourself!

In order to avoid offending someone, here are some tips to consider when communicating with individuals who are unable to verbally communicate:

●       Always assume competence! It is very frustrating to have communication difficulties, and even more frustrating when others don’t think you are capable of something.

●       Use vocabulary, intonation, and topics that reflect the individual’s age, not their physical size or appearance. Some neurodevelopmental disabilities such as Rett syndrome or Down syndrome may cause a smaller stature, so a 10-year-old girl may physically appear to be 4 years old or younger. She’s still a 10-year-old with 10-year-old interests, so if you talk to her in your preschooler voice, she’ll most likely be unhappy. If you’ve just met someone and are unsure of their age, just do your best!

●       Pay attention to body language, particularly facial expressions. Although someone may be unable to tell you out loud that you’re scary and that they want space, a sharp glare can say a lot. Respect that!

●       Don’t use physical touch too much unless you know it is something that this individual enjoys. How would you feel if you were 15 years old and someone came up to you and kept touching your hair? Yikes.

●       Don’t talk about the person directly in front of them. This generally isn’t a thing you should do to anyone, ever, so definitely don’t do it to someone just because they can’t verbalize their annoyance. If you have questions or comments, direct your conversation toward the person! Inclusion is key.

Although these tips just scratch the surface, hopefully they will be helpful in the future. If you’re looking for more, here is a great source for communicating with individuals without the ability to speak within the clinical setting: https://bronwynhemsley.wordpress.com/about/25-tips-for-communicating-with-people-with-little-or-no-speech-in-clinical-settings/ 

Anna Hastings