• Rodger Stein

What can you DO? Confessions of a Special Needs Behavior Analyst

"The light came on. After this experience one of the questions I began to ask as part of the assessment was, “What can you do, as a family, for your child?” I stopped telling parents what they should do and began to design plans the worked for the parents and the family. "

I began working as a behavior analyst in the early 90’s. During that time, it was common work for behavior analysts to provide in-home behavior intervention services. We were to assess the behavioral excesses and corresponding behavioral deficits and their functional relationships.


We then designed an intervention plan that would teach skills to replace the behavioral excesses with more acceptable functional skills.


Once our plans were constructed, we instructed the parents of special needs children how to implement them. Our plans were incredibly labor intensive and based on an incredible set of best practices.


These plans were solely designed to address the needs of the child only. Implementation was considered time sensitive and hence, the parents were provided with academic based time frames that would increase success.


However, one thing that was seldom taken into account was the specific family system that the child lived in at home. It was assumed that the parents would do what ever it took to meet the behavioral expectations set forth in the intervention plan.


Depending on the specific diagnosis, a plan could entail as much as 40 plus hours of active intervention every week, in other words a full time job for the parents (or most often the mother).


Frequently, the needs of the family (physical, emotional, and psychological) were left unaddressed.


The results were frequently impressive for the child with special needs, but catastrophic for the family. In other words, we designed amazing plans but negatively impacted the family in the process of ‘helping’.


As one guilty of such expectations, I witnessed many families fall apart while attempting to follow my plans.


Finally, one family informed me that they could not and would not implement the intervention plan I designed because it wouldn’t fit into their family life.


The light came on. After this experience one of the questions I began to ask as part of the assessment was, “What can you do, as a family, for your child?”


I stopped telling parents what they should do and began to design plans the worked for the parents and the family.


Over many years of providing behavioral assessments, I have learned that by working with a family (however that is defined) I can effectively eliminate adding additional stress to an already stressful home environment.


I often was met with parents who were over stressed, confused, disappointed in themselves, and feeling like they had been abandoned by the world.


Frequently, these parents had tried and failed at the all-or-nothing intervention plans that had absolutely no concern with what was achievable for any individual family.


Working with parents and other family members, WE began the process of creating plans that did not equate less intensity with less parental love or caring.


Clearly, as a team, we addressed the most pressing issues first, but worked to determine logically what was most important for the family.


Did these intervention plans take longer to demonstrate overall significant behavioral change, yes, but the families were able to work as a team and thus felt mutually supported and appreciated.


All because somebody asked: What can you DO?

Thanks for reading :)


Rodger - Vest Contributing Author


P.S.: I'd love to hear from you - drop me a line in Comments below!


About the Author:

Rodger L. Stein lives in Sacramento, California. He is a Retired Behavior Analyst and Professor of Psychology. Rodger has over 20 years experience serving thousands of individuals with Neuro-developmental challenges as well as others with general cognitive developmental challenges. Roger is now beginning a new phase of his career as Contributing Author for our Vest 7Keys Blog. We're excited to have Rodger on board!

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