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Colleagues in the Field: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Part 4

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA): Part 4 – ABA Empowers Families

By Dr. Don Togade, Ph.D., BCBA-D
“With the systematic and strength-based approach of Behavioural Skills Training (BST), parents will continue to experience success in their learning, thereby boosting their enthusiasm in guiding their children to become the best versions of themselves.” – Dr. Don

Parents and significant others play a major role in their child’s ability to learn and develop independence. Whether they are aware of it or not,  parents’ daily interactions will often predict how their children will perform in accomplishing self-help tasks, play skills, social interactions, emotional regulation, and their ability to self-manage across situations.

Most parents will raise their children in the best way possible based on what they “know” and “can.” Because of their upbringing, cultural practices, and values, parents are likely to use similar techniques that they have experienced and observed from their parents in raising their children.

Regardless of whether children are neurotypical or neurodiverse, most parents are likely to implement familiar techniques to better support their young ones. Although some of these parenting styles might have worked for them in the past, applying similar techniques might not be as beneficial even if parents implement it with the best intentions for their children.

ABA, with its empirically validated techniques in promoting meaningful behaviour change across individuals, can also further enhance parenting skills. As with individualised teaching, ABA follows a similar approach in coaching parents. To help ensure that parent coaching/training is meaningful, assessments such as parent interviews and observations are conducted to gather information. This helps to better understand the influence of some environmental factors that are likely impacting the techniques they use in raising their child. 

During an interview, for an example, parents are asked to share about their attitudes, values, beliefs, and or cultural expectations with regard to parenting. In addition, directly observing and recording parent-child interactions provides valuable information in determining what styles or approaches will promote greater development for their children.

ABA employs an objective and culturally sensitive method in conducting assessments, complemented by its respectful and non-judgmental collaborative approaches. ABA thus empowers parents by providing them with relevant information so that they can make choices that are meaningful to their families.

Supplementing greater awareness with an empirically validated behaviour change program such as Behavioural Skills Training (BST), the combination of these two techniques helps ensure an effective, efficient, and a fun learning experience for parents. BST is a technique that empowers and increases parents’ confidence, thereby making them active facilitators in their child’s development. Through BST, parents are guided in identifying concrete and measurable goals so that they will be able to achieve them in  a timely manner. Once goals are established, a variety of techniques such as deductive teaching, modelling, behavioural rehearsal, and feedback are implemented during parent coaching.

Given the assumption that each individual learns differently, the skillful selection of some (or all) BST techniques to accommodate the learning styles of parents have some notable benefits. For instance, selecting deductive teaching, modelling and feedback allows parents to understand ideas and concepts faster, thereby increasing their motivation to immediately apply what they have learned with their children.

In addition, because a variety of real-world parenting scenarios are used during training, parents are more likely to retain and skillfully apply what they have learned across relevant life situations with their children. Finally, given the systematic and strength-based approach of BST, parents will continue to experience success in their learning, thereby boosting their enthusiasm in guiding their children to become the best versions of themselves.

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PsychHabitat would like to thank Dr. Don for contributing to our Colleagues in the Field series with his expertise on ABA! If you would like to connect with Dr. Don, he can be reached here.

Stay tuned for future blog posts as more of our colleagues share their insights and their areas of expertise!

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Colleagues in the Field: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Part 3

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA): Part 3 – ABA is Individualised

By Dr. Don Togade, Ph.D., BCBA-D
“With repeated success, confidence builds and grows.” – Dr. Don

In the previous blog post, Dr. Don shared his insights on ABA being both a helping and an inclusive discipline. He also briefly described the importance of conducting comprehensive behavioural assessments so that a client’s safety, progress, and dignity are upheld to the highest possible standards. In this post, Dr. Don will share his thoughts about ABA’s unique approach to learning – that is, an individualised approach to teaching.

Amongst early neurodiverse learners, ABA has been effective in teaching them skills that they can apply in their daily lives. These include, but are not limited to, daily living/self-help, academic, play, and social skills.

By skillfully arranging teaching sequences, learners will be able to maximise the benefits of a learner-centered approach to instruction. For instance, when teaching complex skills (e.g. reading, writing, tying shoe laces, toothbrushing, following directions, conversational skills etc.), the systematic breaking down into smaller steps allows for faster learning and retention. Since each step has to be mastered before progressing to more advanced skills, learners reliably experience success. With repeated success, confidence builds and grows.

Since the focus of ABA is to teach socially significant behaviors, learners are also concurrently taught to practice their skills in relevant social situations. For instance, learners who are learning how to read might practice their skills with novels, reading instructions, street signs, and food labels in the grocery store etc. To promote socialisation skills, teaching might include practicing turn-taking, cooperation, and conversational skills with novel playmates. By practicing these skills across diverse contexts, it equips the learner in successfully navigating their environment. This thereby increases their motivation to learn and explore experiences that are meaningful to them and their families.

Interested to find out more? Watch out for the final blog post as Dr. Don will  share his insights on the most important characteristic of ABA – that is, its ability to empower people. Stay tuned!

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Colleagues in the Field: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Part 2

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA): Part 2 – ABA is Inclusive

By Dr. Don Togade, Ph.D., BCBA-D
“ABA analyses the role and determines the varying influence the environment has on one’s behaviour. The careful and culturally-sensitive  approach to behavioural assessments places an individual’s safety, progress, and dignity as its highest priority.” – Dr. Don

In the previous blog post, Dr. Don defined ABA as a natural science approach to understanding human behaviour. In addition, he also mentioned that the goal of ABA is to enable individuals to reach their highest potentials so that they can become more independent and proactive members in their families and their communities. Simply put, ABA is a helping science. It is a helping discipline because it attempts to help improve not one, but all individuals, regardless of their unique backgrounds, to reach their highest potentials. In this blog post, Dr. Don will share his insights as to why ABA as a helping science is also inclusive.

ABA is an inclusive field. Regardless of one’s race, cultural background, sexual identity, gender preference, socio-economic status, religion, diagnosis, or developmental history, the principles of learning can be applied to optimise one’s ability to learn and thrive. Positive changes in behaviour are likely because ABA takes into account the unique social and environmental circumstances that may impact successful learning. ABA analyses the role and determines the varying influence the environment has on one’s behaviour. The careful and culturally-sensitive approach to behavioural assessments places an individual’s safety, progress, and dignity as its highest priority.

The use of comprehensive assessments allows for individual progress to be measured and achieved. ABA utilises behavioural assessments such as direct observations and structured interviews in order to determine unique environmental factors that could hinder or accelerate progress. For instance, an ABA practitioner may collaborate with clients and their significant others to better understand their unique cultural practices, religious rituals, and socio-economic circumstances etc., to identify relevant resources to better support optimal learning. By bringing these unique social contexts into awareness, the knowledge gained from these assessments are likely to influence the individual’s adherence, and their parent/caregiver’s willingness to participate during intervention.

Interested to find out more? Watch out for the third blog post as Dr. Don continues to share his insights on how ABA can support learners in reaching their highest potentials through an individualised approach to teaching. Stay tuned!

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Colleagues in the Field: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Part 1

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA): Part 1 – Introduction to ABA

By Dr. Don Togade, Ph.D., BCBA-D
“ABA enables an individual to develop a variety of skills that are lasting and relevant across life situations.” – Dr. Don

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a natural science approach of understanding human behaviour. Unique to ABA is the assumption that our current behaviours, thoughts, and feelings are products of our past experiences. The things we do, how we relate and think about situations, and the manner in which we label and express our emotions, are all means to adapt to our ever-changing life situations. Using a scientific approach, ABA attempts to explain “why” we do what we do, “how” we have learned to behave in a certain way, and helps us determine, whether we will (or will not) engage in similar behaviours in the future. 

It is “natural” in the sense that it attempts to explore the relations between the physical environment and our behaviours. By studying these relations, it gives us important information on how to better arrange our resources so that behaviours that are meaningful to us will emerge, maintain, and continue to  thrive.

Similar to other helping disciplines, ABA attempts to improve the quality of life of individuals by using behaviour change strategies that are derived from principles of learning. These empirically validated principles serve as the foundation of a variety of ABA interventions  to fulfill a major goal: To enable individuals to reach their highest potentials so that they can become more independent and proactive members in their families and in their communities. 

ABA enables an individual to develop a variety of skills that are lasting and relevant across life situations. Especially for individuals who have physical, developmental or mental health challenges, they often require individualised instructions to learn and thrive. ABA thus takes the approach of primarily analysing the impact of environmental factors on learning, and systematically utilizes these information to design instructions  that are appropriate to the individual. This type of learning ensures that no individual, regardless of their life situation or circumstance, is left behind.

Want to find out more? Stay tuned to the next blog post as Dr. Don continues to share his insights on inclusivity, individuality, and empowerment – key features that makes ABA a science of helping people. 

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Media Guidelines and What Matters Most: A Reflective Piece

Screen Time: Guidelines

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have published guidelines on the recommended duration of screen time a child should be limited to. While having a fixed number can be helpful for some families, this may not be realistic for others. 

These guidelines may be misconstrued and parents may be judged for not adhering to these limits. Not being able to follow these guidelines may also contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and even frustration for parents.

What’s Missing?

On one hand, these guidelines aim to give parents an idea of how to manage time spent on television, tablets, gaming consoles and phones. On the other hand, parents may benefit more from learning how best to use media effectively.

Instead of focusing on how much time kids should spend on media, it may be more important to pay attention to (1) what they are watching, (2) who they are watching it with, and (3) what they are not engaging in because of media use.

Technology is not inherently bad. These tools have been a part of our lives for generations, and it has contributed to our development, learning, work life, and relationships in many ways. Technology becomes problematic when media is used excessively. This may then contribute to issues such as behavior challenges, sleep reduction, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition.

The Reality

Now, more than ever, children and adults have increased access to various types of media. In fact, we can now stay connected 24/7 through multiple platforms. How can we ensure that children and adolescents have a wholesome and well-balanced relationship with media and non-media related activities?

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Our Story

In 2007, our journey as friends and psychologists began at university here in Singapore. Our journey then took us out of Singapore and to graduate school in Chicago.

Miles away from Singapore, over meals, on vacations, during supervisions, at conferences, in meetings, and while juggling school with practicums/internships/fellowships … we never stopped discussing our dreams and ideas. Our goal was to some day return home to Singapore to open a practice serving individuals with neurodevelopmental differences.

Fast forward to August 2019, while sipping on our iced coffees in the Greektown neighbourhood of Chicago, we chose a name for our practice – PsychHabitat.

Chicago, 2019

PsychHabitat is a community for learning, support, resource, and growth. For individuals, families, professionals, and everyone in between.

PsychHabitat is a first step towards realising our vision, and we hope you will join us in this journey.

– Dr Aveline and Dr Tanisha