bespoke behavioural consultancy - Des Cooke BCBA


Standing in front of a group today I got them to the point of understanding that their choices are effected by the resources they have to manage those thoughts feelings and situations that are constantly in the background, sometimes in the foreground.

I used an example of my choices and actions around my eating at a conference that happened two days ago.

The choices where I had the resources to make sensible decisions involved me being up early enough (by 7 if local accommodation) to have breakfast, heat a bowl of mince, bung that in a food flask for later. Therefore at the conference I had the ability without issue (this part I have done many times) to not notice the buffet and to network through the lunch break.

That was a great analogy for the group however it does seem to make me sound big headed and full of dung.

It takes me a good few hours to drive home - at least 4 from there and more if I take a break, which I would need. So by the time it gets to early evening it does not matter that I have eaten the flask of food and not touched the buffet. By this point I am tired.

So I stop for the loo and inevitably end up wandering around a Tesco or some such place that sells calories on tap. This part of the day I am in a different situation, my energy is low and I still have to drive for a few hours. So I end up with drinks and cookies and chocolate, well, a mix of stuff that is inappropriate for my healthy, my body is a temple, type of diet.

In short when I have less resources to assist with the situations, feelings and emotions - I make poor choices given the choice point.

On the taking of the Exam

On August 15th at just after 10 am I took the BACB's exam to qualify as a BCBA. As I post this I am now qualified. There are clear guidelines about not divulging any content of the exam itself however for those of you aiming to do your exam in the London option I feel a few pointers may assist you with your travels and preparations.

The venue itself it not the green canopy entrance however your confirmation letter will explain that point. The task itself involved a fair upheaval for me therefore due to other constraints I was travelling with a reasonably big back pack (70 litres with a zip off day bag).

Now when if comes to contacting the exam centre I failed miserably - I spoke to the UK phone number who went off, leaving me on hold for reasonable time on 2 occasions, to check if I could store my backpack. They could only tell me that nothing could be taken into the exam, I knew that, and that there would be a small locker for phones etc that must be stored in the bag provided. Eventually the person on the phone suggested I called the London venue to ask the question directly. When I explained that I had phoned the only UK number on the site she was disinterested and the call finished with me no further forward.

So I went to the online chat to see if I could get anywhere and after some substantial back and forth they gave me the London number - which leads to a message saying "this number does not accept incoming calls" As I was travelling the day before I decided to arrive at the testing venue to ask the question directly with them able to see my backpack in its entirety.

Meanwhile I searched for bag storage in central London and did find company called bagbnb - meant to be airbnb for luggage. I actually found a place 2 minute walk from the testing venue who would take the bag all day for £5. Paid that online straight away, this is certainly the cheapest part of this qualification and may prove to be the easiest and most efficient.

Roll on the arrival in London and I arrived at the testing centre to find an array of lockers - 2 of which would have fitted in my 70 litre bag - however the lockers are on a first come first served basis and there were no keys in the largest lockers meaning someone was using them.

So I knew my zip off backpack would easily fit in the smallest lockers and there were a few slightly larger ones. However in the end I went with the bagbnb, this left me the rest of the afternoon in London large bag free as I was not on the train home till evening off peak. I hope this has been of some help to anyone who has to go to the exam on their own and has luggage as they have come from some distance away such as myself.

Peter Drucker

"What gets measured gets improved"

- Peter Drucker

I apologise if you feel I tangent too much.

I was very much put off ABA in general for many years - I think I should mention that up front.

This is as a result of exposure through my work and through some of my own research. Through work I have met many people who have officially had a great deal of training in ABA with lots of qualifications, they tended to mention “Science” a lot.

However - I fundamentally disagreed in the past with one element which has led me to write this and other blog posts. I felt the things I was being shown missed the fact that we are in a relationship. Don’t bark at me - I am now an ABA student and having now met better practitioners I am, over 20 years later, on side.

My son was born in December 2001.

In December 2002 I noticed that my son would not fall asleep alone but was falling asleep while in the arms of one of his parents while we were watching television. He would then sleep alone in his cot in his own room but he could not fall asleep alone in his cot in his own room.

To set some of the other scene he had with in a matter of days of birth slept in his cot in his own room and he was used to sleeping the whole night save feeding of course. I appreciate most of the readers will not have had this situation.

At the time, in my memory, there was an awful lot of conversation around controlled crying. This in my understanding involved increasing the amount of time that a child was crying so the child gets used to it. Taking this as a simple behavioural issue, going on the advice of the books etc, I was to let my child cry and increase the amount of time that this crying happened up to a maximum, I believe at the time, of 10 minutes.

That to me meant the child would be getting used to asking for assistance and it being denied. One of the most common reports from parents when they get asked to try these sorts of programs is that they cannot do it they cannot listen to the child cry, they cannot see the child in distress and they're the ones that are putting the child in distress by denying access to the attention that is being requested.

I was in my early 30’s this was my second child and quite frankly firmly disagreed with these ideas. It is simplistic to say “it is attention seeking - just ignore it, it will go away” I have written posts about that before. Certainly if you hear Greg Hanley he would say you must first turn off the behaviour before you work with it - i.e. give the item, in this case attention. Again I have written other posts on his work.

For a number of years before this and since I have been involved in work around what used to be called challenging behaviour. Yet distress here is the key, I no longer use the term challenging behaviour in my teaching we use the phrase “assisting individuals in distress” the foundation course is titled “Developing Positive Relationships with Individuals in Distress”. People who are learning to “manage challenging behaviour” generally interact differently to those who have learnt to “assist individuals in distress”. It is simply fundamental reframing of your role as a carer. (see blog on Challenging Behaviour being an outdated term)

As I tended to work away from home a lot I put aside time around Christmas 2002 where I knew that I was going to be home for several nights in a row.

From this point I will make sure that I add in some of the behavioural terms so that those who are into the science can follow along with that terminology. If you are not into the science I apologise for some of the terminology and I hope I can explain enough as I go on.

Sleep was under the stimulus control of the presence of a parent, in fact the parent was physically the pillow :-) This intervention was needed so that as my son grew he would be able to happily fall asleep in his own room which would have made a socially significant difference to himself and improve his parents quality of life.

The first night in question I sat watching TV, he became tired, making sure that he was tired before I started the process creates a motivating operation. This motivating operation means that he is much nearer sleep than if I was to try this at a set time. I'm not saying that in the future we do not need routines in our children’s lives - there is a lot of research on the fact that routines around things like bedtime and reading etc for children is incredibly positive for them to see this video on that subject.

However at this time I am using his tiredness as a motivating operation. It puts him in a more motivated state to achieve what I was planning for.

In terms of my son and I hugging each other this is very much on a schedule either of us can initiate. So very contrary to the training of the time I believed that should he call out in any fashion I would give him attention / hug to make sure he did not have to display the distress behaviour to gain a interaction from me. This works very well with my belief system around the fact that I do not want to damage my relationship with him. As I am his emotional gatepost (one of them) I need to be the adult in the situation, when he displays distress I give him support. Therefore in behavioural terms for this procedure hugs are on an FR1 schedule. This means that with any slight display of distress or request for a hug, for example putting his arms up, I will give him one. I will not deny him access to such a basic human need.

In behavioral terms you can put some behaviour on extinction that had previously been reinforced. For me to follow the extinction path I would have to deny him access to the hug / attention, I was not prepared to do this. I now know from the modern training that if you are not able to manage the extinction bursts you should not be using extinction. Use of extinction alone can lead to large extinction bursts, most parents would find this very difficult to work through. If you are placing a behaviour on extinction you should be reinforcing a replacement method of communication so the function of the behaviour can be met in another way. Extinction itself is to be followed 100% and this is just too hard to do for most parents. Indeed for problem behaviours modern practitioners doubt the ability for extinction to be used 100% in the natural environment 100% as the behaviour is likely to contact reinforcement you have not planned for.

From my coursework - Without knowing the reinforcer maintaining responding, extinction CANNOT be effectively implemented

I am not doing a post on extinction here however I do see many people suggesting you use extinction without functional understanding and alternative skill reinforcement. Then they blame the parents for not being able to work through it.

After all he had learnt to to fall asleep on us, and so a parent was already associated with falling asleep we needed him to associate his cot with falling asleep. I believe this procedure may therefore also fall into the category of transfer of stimulus control through stimulus stimulus pairing, leading to stimulus fading.

I took my son while he was still just about awake into his room where it was nice and dark and I placed him into his cot. I had already set up a little coffee table next to the cot so that I could sit with him rather than following the teaching of standing outside the room with a stopwatch. Every time I put him down he would stand up, reach up again for a hug. Every time he did this I would pick him up I would say gentle words to him and I would lay him back in his cot while he was still just about awake. The lying in the cot woke him up and he would again reach up for my neck and again I would lift him before he cried so it's not to have to let him show distress before I will pick him up.

I believe that this process would take several nights, however what I did was sit on the coffee table put my arms on the top edge of the cot so that he could touch my hair, my head put it's arms around my neck. I continued every time he initiated to pick him up and settle him down gently with quiet words and every time he stood up and initiated a hug. The time that I was holding him was become increasingly small because as soon as I picked him up he relaxed ready for sleep he was so tired.

There is a lot of research on mirror neurons, something we discuss on training, which I have mentioned elsewhere in other posts however if the term is new to you I encourage a google search.

My father inadvertently taught me about mirror neurons, I had seen him on several occasions pretend to be asleep so that a young grandchild would fall asleep next to him for an afternoon nap, he was a master at pretending to be asleep.

So with my arms on the cot I put my head onto my arms. My son stood up, went to put his arms around me I didn't respond so he tapped me on the head with his little hand. He walked up and down the cot, tapped me on the head once more so I started to gently snore. I had one eye open and could see exactly what was going on, he looked at me he looked at the other side of the room he tapped me on the head one last time when I was snoring and he lay down and fell asleep.

This is the only night I actually had to do this process as we never had a problem with this ever again. I realise that every child is different, I understand that every relationship is different, I am in no way suggesting that this should work for every child, every time at any age. What I am suggesting is if we have the ability to follow this sort of a path, which is what I've been teaching for well over 20 years, why do we believe that we have to follow standard extinction leading to a behavioural change through an extinction burst. Other technology exists.

Extinction may be very appropriate when the child knows and understands the rules. This was not the case I had.

I mentioned this story to my supervisor as I'm a student of ABA, and my supervisor discussed with me the concept of Graduated Extinction. I find it difficult in that my training states very clearly that Extinction involves no reinforcement at all and yet we are now hearing colloquially the term Graduated Extinction on a regular basis. I believe this concept needs new term as it cannot be Extinction - from my course:

Critical Attributes of Extinction

  • 1.The behavior has to have been previously reinforced.
  • 2.Reinforcement has to be withheld each and every time the behavior occurs.
  • 3.The behavior has to be weakened.

My supervisor has suggested the end product where I ignored him with one eye open is classic extinction. However she also highlighted that the procedural elements we put in place beforehand may well have mitigated against the extinction burst. Elements such as:

  • Motivating operation
  • Modeling
  • FR1 schedule

It is an interesting point. Perhaps it was not that I was saying I won’t do that stuff others suggested and I disagreed with - perhaps I was doing exactly what the modern training says but I did not know it.

I have many of these stories about parenting and people believe I am wrong - often when I talk about these things people used to say “your actions are bad for the child” or “the child has got to learn” or “what sort of child will he turn out to be”. These days when I tell these stories on training I can say to people come and meet him, ask him about how he has turned out when his father went against common wisdom of how to parent.

This may be the most common phrase people have heard when asked about behaviour management or Applied Behaviour Analysis - ABA. It seems to make sense so it bolsters people’s belief that they understand the point. However most people are either misinformed, misunderstanding the complexities or are missing their own human bias

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“Please give us a simple answer, so that we don’t have to think, because if we think, we might find answers that don’t fit the way we want the world to be.”~ Terry Pratchett in Nation

I was always negative about the statement - "Ignore the bad behaviour - reinforce the good" and my reasoning included meeting many people who had ABA training (including those who years ago had the main qualification). All those who mentioned knowledge of ABA seemed to not really understand that the statement above when quizzed, my view is that the statement is one dimensional and therefore dangerous.

In this sense the word "dangerous" refers to the fact that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I met a lot of people who were stating that the work is all about food items. If it was as they believed we would be reinforcing the behaviour we wanted constantly wondering around with utility belts on with pouches of mars bars, ice cream, cigarettes, tea coffee and juice. Someone would have made a lot of money on utility belts with dispensers that kept the tea hot and the ice cream cold. :-)

People are hardwired to control situations, when we feel out of control we tend to revert to base instincts. When reacting to fear of loss of control our brains have a faster processing path to reactions of overpowering the other person, "control" or to running away, "escape". While there are in reality more F's in this concept it is the basic component of what people term the fight or flight response.

Compassion, Understanding, Peace & Harmony are learned through exposure to both sides of the coin. It takes some exposure and training for most humans to not automatically attempt to control those around them when they themselves are under pressure. This is especially true when one party has a title of authority over another - Parent, Teacher, Carer, Nurse etc. While most of you in these roles will dispute this statement, I am not referring to you, you are reading this post. I have blogged previously about people's philosophy changing as a paradigm shift here

So you hear people under pressure default to statements like - No - Don’t do that. don't give in etc. I recently heard a highly qualified therapist state that when under pressure walking into a situation where staff are saying "what do we do?" - she has prior to our training stated "don't give in". Yet when on training she can fully connect to the point that this may not be the best thing to do, she had responded under pressure just as most humans do.

When it comes to statements like “ignore the bad behaviour” we completely miss planning our intervention based on the function of the behaviour. It is a staggering leap to assume that it is all based on attention. There may be many reasons for the function of the behaviour, attention is an option we will explore here first.

If they need your attention a person's behaviour will get worse before it gets better as the extinction burst predicts. If during this ramping up of behaviour the person manages to contact the natural reinforcer of your attention, due probably to the safety being an issue, then what you are reinforcing may be this contingency and the extinction becomes harder to maintain.

Our main port of call if the issue is attention is to interact with the behaviour as early as possible. Yes I will say that again, to work with attention seeking behaviour (or almost any other form) you must first turn the behaviour off by giving the person the function, in this case, attention as early in the cycle as possible. This is primarily so the individual gains access to the attention without having to ramp up to dangerous behaviour.

Once the behaviour is turned off we can design a plan around working with the precursors proactively and of course reactively, aiming proactively for increasing attention for appropriate behaviour, shaping those interactions and leading to Functional Communication Training FCT to teach a more appropriate replacement behaviour for seeking attention.

If the function of behaviour is anything else we could be promoting / reinforcing the problem behaviour by ignoring it. In these terms ignoring a behaviour means different things to different people. If you are working with demand avoidance then ignoring the behaviour and ignoring the person need to be two different things. Some staff will find this difficult and confusing leading to inconsistencies in approach.

Statements such as "Reinforce the good behaviour" are again a huge question. Do we actually know the function of the behaviour and do we actually know about what reinforcers are working? We need to go back to the post on the definition of Reinforcement [[ post to follow ]] - if the behaviour is not increasing in the future the delivered item or event is not acting as reinforcement. So who is taking the data? People make statements like this based on hunches usually around one event without data or a graph to refer to the trend line. These things rarely happen in isolation, so when the dog barks and you get him to sit and give him the bit of sausage - have you reinforced the sitting or is it actually a behaviour chain [[ post to follow ]] and you have reinforced barking?

After all If success was as simple as, "Ignore the bad behaviour - reinforce the good!", then why would you need a Masters level course in Behaviour Analysis? Which begs the question - when people do a 2 day course in ABA - why do they believe they understand it? let alone practice it?

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“To put it simply and starkly: If you don’t get the people process right, you will never fulfill the potential of your business.” - Larry Bossidy

As regular visitors will know I have been working for well over 20 years changing hearts and minds in people’s attitudes to working in care. The mind shift almost always travels from introductions where people say / imply things that contradict the basic philosophy of the course to an ending where people state publicly (or privately to me) how they always thought like this. Usually adding something like - “it is great that a training like this exists so that all those other people I work with whose attitude needs adjusting can access it”.

This paradigm shift is such that once people get on board they cannot see that they previously saw the world any other way. In their eyes the experience just backs up their formerly existing viewpoint. They cannot remember their belief was different because currently they cannot accept they ever felt any other way.

The term paradigm shift highlights the inability to hold two competing yet opposing beliefs at the same time. If you believe the Sun moves around the flat Earth, and then learn the science of planetary bodies, you cannot hold both beliefs in tandem. Both are not possible at the same time. Your paradigm, or pattern of belief, shifts and you suddenly find that you could not have believed anything else.

When you get to the finer points of Organisational Behaviour Management or Positive Behaviour Support you gain an increasing understanding this will change the working world for the better for all. However this technology, like any human based process, is only as good as the “buy in” throughout the organisation.

A major part of the process is overcoming resistance from non believers. With the skills in place to work with and overcome this resistance, the process itself appears to make sense to those who gain enough knowledge to be converted.

The shift in tide will no doubt occur when enough people are “on board”, others will feel the opinion shift. Additionally as you gather data, and prove the success, those who were not “on board” soon imply that they always were!

- Just like on a training course.

Such is the true effect of altering hearts and minds.

Nice short introduction

Mark Dixon
Those tangible things we dangle in front of you, once you become verbally sophisticated, don't seem to necessarily always govern your behaviour in the ways predictably people hope they would. This is not just opinion it is something we have known for 40 years in Behaviour Analytic Research. Once people start talking those whole reinforcement schedules thing do not necessarily work.

The Aubrey Daniels book is possibly the best business book I have read and it fits so well with studying.

Book on this link

Loving listening to it on audible - this link

Looking forward to OBM stuff……

Anger is a form of energy. It cannot be destroyed, merely converted. In the case of humans anger transfers from one person to another.
Gerhardt, 2012
“Adaptive behavior competencies will get you through times of no academic skills; better than academic skills will get you through times of no adaptive behavior competencies.” (Gerhardt, 2012)

In the ABA course work I am doing each section is initiated by a bit of history - some of which I knew some of which I did not. However each course has elements of ABA historic implementation that the instructors are not proud of. I shall attempt to explain an example here.

A common phrase I hear is the concept of DRO. A DRO is Differential Reinforcement of Other behaviours.

So in ABA terms a DRO would be putting the problem behaviour on extinction and using reinforcement on any other behaviour. This should have the outcome over time of the person being more likely to express their distress using any other behaviour than the problem behaviour. It does however raise some issues.

Within the last year while I was teaching I heard a teacher, who has had recent ABA training, stating that we need to put him on a DRO straight away. The training example that I had given and we were discussing had not mentioned anything about the function of the persons behaviour, I was only half way through the point I was making. The DRO statement was leapt to way too early in the information IMHO.

DRO - Differential Reinforcement of Other behaviours. This type of system is considered outdated, as stated on the course I am studying. In the history section we hear about how the industry / sector / discipline has moved through many states, I am sure it will continue and I am only going to mention one transition here.

When using a DRO we are not teaching specific replacement behaviours. However, as with the Greg Hanley post [here], this is something we need to be doing not missing. The course work was created in 2012 which is 5 years ago. This course states that the better alternative would be DRA. Our teacher, mentioned above had been on a recent 2016 ABA course.

A DRA is Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviours. With this system your aim is not to reinforce any random other behaviour. It is to enable the person by reinforcing a behaviour that can assist the person to communicate their need in a more appropriate manner. In my experience the procedure is more effective if you have a specific replacement behaviour to focus on rather than casting your net too wide.

Obviously some shaping may be needed however the field / discipline is vast and shaping would be a different post.

Following Matt’s Session 18 Podcast I am excited to receive my books from LULU